Public has bleak view of government’s NHS policies with high concern about workforce challenges

3 February 2022

About 5 mins to read

New polling data from the Health Foundation and Ipsos shows that only 12% of the UK public agree their government has the right policies for the NHS, with more than half (62%) disagreeing.

Despite ‘Protecting the NHS’ being at the heart of the government’s response to the pandemic it is evident that the public are pessimistic about governments’ handling of the NHS, and standards of care. Confidence in national policies for social care is even lower, with only 8% agreeing the government has the right policies for social care.  

Despite this, public support for the core principles of the NHS remains very strong. The vast majority think that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery (89%), provide a comprehensive service available to everyone (88%), and should be funded primarily through taxation (85%). The public appear most concerned about workforce pressures on the NHS, as well as elective care waiting times. 

People’s top three priorities for the NHS are: 

  • addressing the pressure on or workload of the NHS staff (37%)

  • increasing the number of staff in the NHS (36%)  

  • improving waiting times for routine services (35%).  

The research also shows that people in Scotland and Wales are significantly more likely to agree that the devolved governments have the right policies in place for the NHS (32% and 23% respectively). 

The Health Foundation has long been calling for a comprehensive workforce strategy from government to address the huge and growing workforce gap facing the NHS and social care in England over the next decade. While government has begun a wide-ranging reform agenda and committed substantial additional funding, a plan to address the workforce shortage is yet to materialise despite the public showing increasing concern about the pressures on staff.  

The research also highlights the public’s increasing pessimism about the state of the NHS and social care overall. 57% think the general standard of care provided by the NHS has got worse in the last 12 months, while 69% think the standard of social care services has deteriorated. People were most likely to think the pressure on NHS staff (85%), waiting times for routine services (84%) and access to GP services (77%) has got worse over the last 12 months. Expectations for the next 12 months are slightly more optimistic though still low: 43% think NHS standards will get worse, while 53% think the same about social care.  

People from the most deprived parts of the country are more likely to think that the standard of GP and hospital care has got worse over the past 12 months (65% and 45% respectively) compared with the general public overall (56% and 37% respectively). This echoes previous analysis showing those living in the most deprived parts of England have poorer access to, and experiences of, general practice and routine hospital care.

In previous years local NHS services were viewed more positively than the NHS overall nationally, but views on local and national services are now similar as the research indicates that the public may now be starting to feel the impact of the strain on their local NHS services. While the public are least likely to think the standard of care at their GP practice (56%) and local hospital (37%) has deteriorated, very few (6%) believe standards in either have improved and less than half think the NHS is providing a good service nationally (44%) or locally (42%).  

Tim Gardner, Senior Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation, said:

'The COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably caused major shifts in public attitudes towards health, the NHS and social care. With health and care services still experiencing substantial pressure, understanding the consequences for people’s perceptions and expectations is vital in ensuring the right policies are put in place for recovery. 

'It is particularly telling that supporting and growing the workforce are among the public’s top priorities for the NHS. Staff are overstretched and exhausted, and it’s clear that the public are noticing. Despite waning confidence in the government’s policies, backing for the core principles of the NHS remains very strong. The public clearly wants to see the health service supported to recover from the pandemic, not radical changes to the NHS model. 

‘With government yet to come forward with a comprehensive workforce strategy and waiting lists at record highs, it is no surprise that the public’s faith in government’s current NHS policies is low. While views differ on the priorities for the NHS, taking action to address the workforce crisis will be the one key ingredient that will enable progress against all of the public’s top priorities.'

The research marks the first wave of polling in a 2-year partnership with Ipsos which examines public perceptions and expectations of health and social care, asking about aspects of NHS performance that are particularly important to the public: quality of care; access to care; and staffing. Results will be published every 6 months, allowing both organisations to track public attitudes on these issues. The first wave of the results is published today.

Notes

The Health Foundation has partnered with Ipsos to deliver a programme of research into public perceptions and expectations of health and social care over the next 2 years. Every 6 months, a representative sample of the UK public using the UK KnowledgePanel – Ipsos’ random probability online panel – will be polled, building on previous work on this topic.   

The Health Foundation’s new long read highlights key findings from the first wave of our new programme of polling conducted between 25 November and 1 December 2021, with a total of 2,102 responses from people aged 16+ across the UK, via the Ipsos UK KnowledgePanel. The sample was stratified by nation and education and delivered a response rate of 58%. A weighting spec was applied to the data in line with the target sample profile; this included 1 which corrected for unequal probabilities of selection of household members (to account for 2 members who may have been selected from 1 household), and weights for region, an interlocked variable of Gender by Age, Education, Ethnicity, Index of Multiple Deprivation (quintiles), and number of adults in the household. 

Media contacts

Simon Perry
Simon.Perry@health.org.uk
20 7257 2093

Sarah Skinner
Sarah.Skinner@health.org.uk
07367275207

Further reading

Long read

Public perceptions of the NHS and social care: performance, policy and expectations

3 February 2022

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Public perceptions of health and social care (November–December 2021)

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Findings from the first wave of our new programme of polling looking at public perceptions of health...

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