British Social Attitudes survey 2011: conclusion

While absolute certainty is not possible in interpreting results from any survey, technical and statistical issues are very unlikely to account for the change in satisfaction in 2011. The extent to which these results reflect a real reduction in NHS performance and the things the public value is hard to judge.

However, triangulation with actual performance measures such as waiting times and health care acquired infection rates and with other surveys of patient experience of the NHS do not suggest an actual drop in performance. While this does not rule out a perception of a poorer service or variations in performance at local level, a more likely explanation is a combination of other factors.

As with previous surveys, the change in government appears to have exerted some influence on peoples views. Satisfaction among Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters rose – as might be expected – in the coalition’s first year in office in 2010, and flattened off (as might also be expected) in that year among Labour supporters. The marked fall in satisfaction among Labour supporters in 2011 – which coincided with the Party’s opposition to the Health and Social Care Bill – suggests an element of political partisanship. Nevertheless, the fall among all groups in 2011 suggests that other factors coloured the public’s attitudes towards the NHS.

It may be that the answer lies in the question. This asked how satisfied people are with the way the NHS runs. The word ‘runs’ may commonly be understood to refer to performance, but may also capture views about the management and stewardship of the NHS (ie, in the sense of how is the NHS run). It may be that a combination of ministerial rhetoric to justify the reforms, concern about the reforms themselves and reaction to the funding squeeze combined to create generalised worries about the NHS and to dent public perception that it is being run well.

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View the most recent results: British Social Attitudes survey 2015.