Public’s faith in Government NHS policies low, with workforce gap biggest worry – poll

The UK public’s confidence in the Government’s handling of the NHS is low, with more than half disagreeing with its policies for the health service, new polling suggests.

Only 12% of people think the current national policies for the NHS are right, while 62% disagree, according to research published on Thursday by the Health Foundation and Ipsos.

The public are most worried about workforce challenges, with 37% of people saying their top priority for the NHS is addressing the pressure on doctors and nurses or their workload.

A similar percentage of people would like to see NHS workforce numbers boosted and an improvement in waiting times for routine services.

Pessimism about social care is even greater, with only 8% agreeing the Government’s policies are right in this area.

The poll also found that more than half of people think the standard of care provided by the NHS has deteriorated over the past year, with most saying the pressure on staff, waiting times for elective care and access to services has got worse.

People from the most deprived parts of England were more likely to think that the standard of GP and hospital care had worsened than the general public, reflecting earlier analysis showing they have poorer access to care, according to the Health Foundation.

Tim Gardner (pictured), 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.”

Meanwhile, public support of the core principles of the NHS remains strong, with the overwhelming majority of respondents saying it should be free at the point of delivery, provide a comprehensive service available to everyone, and be funded primarily through taxation.

The public appear to be happier with the devolved governments’ policies for the NHS in Scotland and Wales, where 32% and 23% of people agree with their approach respectively.

The poll drew some 2,100 responses from people across the UK and was conducted between November 25 and December 1 last year.

Responding to the findings, Royal College of Nursing England director Patricia Marquis said: “Many people agree with us that the biggest issue for our entire health and care system in England is addressing the pressures on staff. Staff are being spread thinner and thinner and struggling to care for their patients safely.

“Meanwhile, the Government has stood idle while soaring numbers of demoralised, undervalued staff are thinking of leaving nursing for a job elsewhere.

“The failure to tackle longstanding staffing vacancies puts patient care at risk and ministers need to produce urgently a fully-funded workforce strategy with the right skills in the right places.”

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