Public satisfaction with the NHS and its services: British Social Attitudes survey 2013

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Part of Public satisfaction with the NHS

Since 1983, NatCen Social Research’s British Social Attitudes survey has asked the public – rather than simply patients – about their views on and feelings towards the NHS and health care issues generally. The latest survey was carried out between June and September 2013. It presents a picture of the public’s satisfaction with the way in which the NHS runs and with important parts of its services, such as general practice (GP) services, inpatients and outpatients as well as satisfaction with social care provided by local authorities.

We found that there has been no change in levels of overall satisfaction with the NHS since 2011 although there have been changes in the public’s views on specific services. Below we give an overview of changes in satisfaction levels over time together with analyses of satisfaction by sub-groups of the population such as whether respondents had had recent contact with the NHS, age groups, political affiliation and country of residence.

For more on past satisfaction trends, see the results from the British Social Attitudes survey 2012.

Satisfaction with the NHS overall

Trends in satisfaction with the NHS since 1983

Figure 1 shows trends in overall satisfaction with the NHS since 1983. Apart from two of the earliest years (1983 and 1984), satisfaction (ie, those who say they are either quite satisfied or very satisfied with the NHS) fluctuated between 34 per cent and 46 per cent up to 2004. Between 1997 and 1999, satisfaction rose from 34 to 46 per cent then fell back to 38 per cent in 2001 (an indication that the possible ‘honeymoon’ period for the then Labour government had ended). But from then onwards, overall satisfaction with the NHS rose steadily to an all-time high of 70 per cent in 2010 – mainly reflecting rising levels of NHS funding and improvements in the things patients and the public cared about (such as shorter waiting times). This increase in satisfaction was generally mirrored by a decline in dissatisfaction.

However, 2011 saw the largest drop in satisfaction ever recorded by the British Social Attitudes survey, down to 58 per cent. More recent data shows this drop to have been a step change, rather than the start of a continued decline. For the past three years, satisfaction has remained unchanged statistically, sitting at 60 per cent in both 2012 and 2013. While satisfaction levels have not recovered to the high of 70 per cent recorded in 2010, they remain high by historical standards. In only two of the past 30 years (2009 and 2010) have satisfaction levels been greater than those recorded in 2012 and 2013.

NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey has been conducted almost every year since 1983. Overall, nearly 89,000 people have taken part. A selection of health care-related questions – including those on satisfaction reported here – has been funded by The King’s Fund since 2011. Other funders sponsor other questions on a variety of topics.

The 2013 survey consisted of 3,244 interviews with a representative sample of adults in England, Scotland and Wales. Addresses are selected at random and visited by one of NatCen Social Research’s interviewers. After selecting (again at random) one adult (aged 18 and over) at the address, the interviewer carries out an hour-long interview. Most questions are answered by the participant selecting an answer from a set of cards.

The sample size for the health care questions reported here was 1,063 in 2013. The data is weighted to correct for the unequal probabilities of selection, and for biases caused by differential non-response. The weighted sample is calibrated to match the population in terms of age, sex and region. The margin of error in 2013 for the health care questions was around +/-1 to 4 percentage points.

The 2013 survey was conducted between June and September.

The topics covered by the survey change from year to year, depending on the identities and interests of its funders. Some questions are asked every year, some every couple of years, and some less frequently.

The survey is funded by a range of charitable and government sources, which change from year to year. The survey is led by NatCen Social Research. NatCen carries out research in the fields of social and public policy, uncovering the truth about people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them. As an independent, not-for-profit organisation, NatCen focuses its time and energy on meeting clients’ needs and delivering social research that works for society.

The topline results and satisfaction trends relating to the NHS and health care issues from the British Social Attitudes survey 2013 have been analysed by John Appleby and Ruth Robertson

We would like to thank Jerome Finnegan, NatCen, for help in data extraction from BSA surveys.

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