The UK public wants a better, adequately staffed health service backed by more funding — not a departure from the NHS model, a major new report has warned.
The report from independent charity the Health Foundation has highlighted the strong support that the public has for the NHS, with 77% believing it is ‘crucial to British society and we
‘must do everything to maintain it’. In addition, they back additional spending to support it: 71% think greater government investment in the NHS is necessary over and above any new funds expected to be raised through the health and care levy.
Addressing staffing issues in the NHS – with vacancies in England alone currently standing at around 132,000 – is among the top priorities for the public, reiterating the desperate need for a long-term, fully funded workforce strategy for the health and care service.
Across the UK as a whole, just 13% think their national government has its policies right on the NHS suggesting that action is needed to reverse a perceived decline in NHS services. The majority (55%) think the general standard of care deteriorated in the past 12 months. Expectations for the next 12 months are slightly less pessimistic than 6 months ago: 39% think NHS standards will worsen, while 22% expect standards to improve. Less than half think the NHS is providing a good service nationally (43%) or locally (42%).
The Health Foundation commissioned Ipsos to poll 2,068 UK adults, with fieldwork carried out between 26 May and 1 June 2022, as part of its bi-annual survey.
Other key findings include:
- The public’s top priorities for the NHS are improving waiting times for routine services (38%), addressing the pressure on or workload of NHS staff (36%) and increasing the number of staff in the NHS (36%).
- A large majority back a mix of measures to fix NHS staffing issues, even if they mean extra public spending. This includes expanding ways for people to join the NHS workforce (90% support), expanding spaces at medical and nursing schools (87%), improving current working conditions for NHS workers (83%), more support to students for the cost of medical training (82%) and increasing pay for NHS workers (77%).
- The public is also pessimistic about social care, although less so than in November 2021. The majority (56%) think standards have deteriorated over the past 12 months. Looking ahead, 43% think standards will deteriorate further. Only 15% of the public thinks social care services in their local area are good, while 31% disagree.
- 52% of the public support the Health and Social Care Levy – a 1.25 percentage point increase in national insurance contributions to help fund the NHS and social care – while only 23% oppose it. The strongest support (68%) for the levy is found among Conservative voters.
- The public is deeply concerned about the impacts of rising costs of living on the nation’s health. 57% think rising living costs are a high or very high threat to the health of UK citizens. 72% believe overall health and wellbeing has declined in the past 12 months. However, they are less concerned about the threat of increases to the cost of living to their own personal health (22% think they pose a high or very high threat to their health).
- A minority believe the government is effectively addressing the leading risk factors for ill health. Just under half (46%) think the government is effectively reducing harm from smoking, while fewer than 1 in 5 people believe the government is working effectively to improve physical activity (19%), improve diets (17%), reduce alcohol-related harm (16%) and reduce obesity (14%).
Hugh Alderwick, Director of Policy at the Health Foundation, said: "The new prime minister inherits a health system under unbearable strain – and very few people think their government has the right policies in place for the NHS or social care.
"Pressures on the NHS in England are sometimes used to fuel a narrative that the health system needs fundamental ‘reform’. But the public have strong support for the basic principles of the NHS and think we must do everything we can to maintain it. They want a health service with enough staff to deliver the care they need, not a fundamentally different kind of health system. And they back additional investment to make that happen.
"The public point to clear priorities for the NHS, including expanding and supporting the workforce. The public are right, and the new government should listen to them. Staffing shortages are affecting what the health system can deliver and are an existential threat to the NHS’s future, yet somehow government has not grasped the scale of the problem. A long-term workforce plan backed by sufficient investment is needed. If government does not act quickly, it risks losing touch with the reality facing the NHS and the public it serves."
Click here to read the full report.