British public's satisfaction with the NHS falls by five percentage points

The British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey for 2015 reports a five percentage point fall in satisfaction with the National Health Service compared to 2014, data published today by The King's Fund shows.

The public's satisfaction with the health service fell to 60 per cent in 2015. While satisfaction is still high by historical standards, it is now nine percentage points below its peak of 70 per cent in 2010. Dissatisfaction with the NHS increased by eight percentage points to 23 per cent in 2015, the largest single-year increase since the survey began in 1983, taking it back to the levels reported between 2011 and 2013.

The survey, conducted by NatCen Social Research, reports that satisfaction with GP services is at 69 per cent. Although general practice is still the service people are most satisfied with, this represents a ten percentage point drop since 2009 and is the lowest rating for GPs since the survey began.

Satisfaction with social care services provided by local authorities is much lower than satisfaction with health services, falling by five percentage points to 26 per cent.

For the first time in 2015, some respondents that were satisfied or dissatisfied with the NHS were asked why. The biggest drivers of satisfaction were the quality of care provided (61 per cent), the fact that the NHS is free at the point of use (59 per cent) and the range of services and treatments available (54 per cent). The main reasons for dissatisfaction are waiting times for GP and hospital appointments (55 per cent), not enough staff (44 per cent) and under-funding (39 per cent).

The survey highlights a sharp divergence of views between supporters of the main two political parties. Satisfaction levels among Conservative supporters continued to remain stable at 65 per cent. However, perhaps reflecting the general election campaign and its outcome (the survey was conducted in the months afterwards), satisfaction among Labour supporters dropped by 11 percentage points back to its 2013 level of 59 per cent. This brings it back in line with historical precedent – satisfaction tends to be higher among supporters of the party in power.

Satisfaction with other services remained relatively unchanged:

  • Satisfaction with dentistry is unchanged from 2014 with slightly more than half of respondents satisfied with the service (54 per cent).
  • Satisfaction with inpatient services remained stable at 58 per cent, while 66 per cent of people were satisfied with outpatient services.
  • Satisfaction with A&E, which has fluctuated over the past few years, was 53 per cent in 2015.

John Appleby, Chief Economist at The King’s Fund, said: ‘The British Social Attitudes Survey has traditionally been seen as a barometer of how well the NHS is performing. The latest survey underlines the high value the British public places on the quality of care the NHS provides and its availability free at the point of use. It is no surprise to find that dissatisfaction is driven by waiting times for appointments and perceptions of underfunding and staff shortages. However, it is also apparent that people’s perceptions are influenced by their views about a range of factors including politics, policy and public institutions, as well as by their own experience of the NHS.’

Notes to editors: 

  1. Public satisfaction with the NHS in 2015 is available at www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/bsa-survey-2015
  2. Since 1983, NatCen Social Research’s British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey has asked members of the public about their views on, and feelings towards, the NHS and health and care issues generally. The latest survey was carried out between July and October 2015 and asked a nationally representative sample of 2,167 people about their satisfaction with the NHS overall, and of 1,062 people about their satisfaction with individual NHS services. The King’s Fund summarises the headline health results. More detail from the survey will be published by NatCen Social Research in summer 2016.
  3. The main question asked was ‘All in all, how satisfied or dissatisfied would you say you are with the way in which the National Health Service runs nowadays?’ Satisfaction as reported here aggregates those who answer 'very' and 'quite' satisfied. It includes those who have had recent contact with the NHS and those who have not. The order in which topics are covered in the survey, and the order in which questions on the NHS are asked, have not changed in recent years.
  4. The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and health care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible care is available to all.