New polling data from the Health Foundation and Ipsos MORI has found that overall public confidence in using NHS services is returning, with around three-quarters (77%) of people reporting they would be comfortable using a hospital – a significant increase from 52% in May.
However, the poll also found that concerns about using hospitals is greater among some of the groups worst affected by COVID-19, with more than one in four (28%) people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and more than a third (34%) of people with a disability saying they would feel uncomfortable about using their local hospital, compared with just over one in five overall (22%).
People from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are also less likely to report having used a health service since the beginning of lockdown (36% compared to 42% of the population as a whole) and are more likely to have considered using a service for a health issue but decided not to (9% compared with 5% overall).
The survey shows that people feel more confident about using local GP services – with 89% saying they would feel comfortable and just 10% saying they would feel uncomfortable (down from 20% of people who reported feeling uncomfortable doing so in May).
Of those who would feel uncomfortable, the risk of catching or being exposed to COVID-19 was the most cited reason why (53% for GP services and 72% for hospitals).*
These findings are in line with data on health service activity, such as Public Health England’s weekly monitoring of emergency department visits, which suggests visits to A&E departments remains below pre-pandemic levels. This raises real concerns that the significant backlog of unmet health care needs is growing.
With winter approaching and COVID-19 cases increasing, it is clearly important to build public confidence that the NHS has everything it needs to protect patients and staff from COVID-19 so that that people feel safe when accessing treatment.
Tim Gardner, Senior Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation, said:
'Whilst it is reassuring to see that the public’s confidence in using NHS services is returning, a significant number of people remain uneasy about accessing vital health care services. The fact that people with a disability and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to feel uncomfortable about using their local hospital, for example, is of particular concern. If this unease deters people from seeking care for serious health conditions, the existing inequalities already laid bare by COVID-19 could be exacerbated further.
'If people are unwell and need treatment, it is important they feel confident enough and receive the right support to access local health care services. Otherwise we risk people with potentially serious conditions going without necessary treatment for fear of being exposed to COVID-19. As the NHS slowly returns hospital services to near-normal levels of activity, it is imperative that the Government and the NHS do their utmost to reassure and support the groups hardest hit by COVID-19 to access essential treatment and care.'
*Respondents were asked to give an unprompted answer to this question.
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About the survey
The July survey was conducted by telephone on the Ipsos MORI CATI Omnibus survey, a weekly telephone omnibus survey of a representative sample of people aged 18 and over in Great Britain. Fieldwork took place between 17 and 29 July 2020. A total of 2,246 people were interviewed. For the main sample, quotas were set on age, gender, Government Office Region and working status. In addition to the people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds interviewed as part of the main sample, a booster survey was conducted. The sample includes a total of 423 interviews conducted with black and minority ethnic participants.
For the overall July findings, data has been weighted to the known population proportions for age within gender, Government Office Region and working status and social grade. For the black and minority ethnic background findings, data has been weighted to the known population proportions for age, gender, Government Office Region, working status and social grade.
The May survey was also conducted via telephone on the Ipsos MORI CATI Omnibus survey. A total of 1,983 people were interviewed between 1 and 10 May 2020. Where questions were repeated in the July survey, these have been included in the report against the May data for comparison, with significant differences commented upon.