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BSA survey reveals overwhelming support for the NHS but the public don’t mind who provides care

25 February 2015

About 4 mins to read

A new report launched today (25 February 2015) reveals that while there is overwhelming support for the funding principles of our health service, British people do not have a strong preference whether NHS-funded hospital treatment is provided by the NHS directly, a private organisation, or a not-for-profit body.

Public attitudes to the NHS is the result of a partnership between the Health Foundation, an independent health care charity, and NatCen Social Research. A total of 2,878 adults in Great Britain were surveyed in the summer and early autumn of 2014, as part of the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey. It found that:

  • 89% of adults in Great Britain support a national health system that is tax-funded, free at the point of use and provides comprehensive care for all citizens.
  • 43% of those polled do not have a preference for whether their NHS-funded hospital care is provided by the NHS or another provider (eg private company or not-for-profit body such as a charity or social enterprise). 39% expressed an active preference for this care to be delivered by the NHS.
  • 51% of those surveyed think the NHS often wastes money.
  • 58% would not support further cuts to other public services to preserve current levels of NHS provision.

Recent polls have suggested that the NHS will be the key issue at this year’s general election, ahead of both immigration and the economy. At a time when the NHS is facing numerous challenges, it is essential to understand the views of those who use the service – the British public.

Today’s report highlights the relationship between public attitudes to the NHS and where people’s political support lies. Conservative and UKIP supporters are more likely to think that the NHS wastes money (65% and 64% respectively), compared with 44% of Labour supporters and 54% of Liberal Democrat supporters.

There is also a marked difference between the generations about where people prefer to receive hospital treatment. People in younger age groups are less committed than older ones to the idea of the NHS as their preferred provider of care. 50% of the ‘war and before’ (age 70+) generation prefer NHS provision, but this drops to 40% for baby boomers (age 49-69), 38% for generation X (age 35-48)and 32% for generation Y (age 35 or under).

Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive at the Health Foundation, comments: 'Just over half the people surveyed think the NHS often wastes money, in particular older people who tend to use the service more. This is despite huge efforts made in the NHS to be more efficient in the past few years. It is a stark reminder that much more can and should be done. One new approach might be to "crowdsource" everyday waste in the NHS - encouraging suggestions from patients.

'But for the people working in the NHS to transform care for the future, as well as maintain quality and reduce waste today, is very difficult. This is why we are calling on politicians to establish a transformation fund to create capacity and provide the investment needed for more fundamental changes to care.'

Penny Young, Chief Executive, NatCen Social Research, said: 'How NHS-funded services are delivered, directly by the NHS or by private or third sector providers, has long been a contested matter. But for a significant proportion of the population it is just not an issue; as many as two fifths don’t mind either way.

'However, some sections of the electorate do still want to be treated directly by the NHS and there are some lessons here for the political parties as they refine their positions on the health service in the run up to the election. In particular, it is older people and Labour supporters who are most in favour of NHS provision, while Liberal Democrat supporters and the young are least likely to have a preference either way.'

Notes to editors

The report’s charts are available for download.

Further background

NatCen Social Research has been running the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey since 1983. It is an annual survey of a representative sample of adults aged 18 and over from across Great Britain. The 2014 survey received 2,878 responses. The BSA survey explores the public’s attitudes to a range of social issues. In this report, we focus on the questions which explored people’s views about NHS funding and care.

We analyse responses in light of people’s support of four political parties: Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP. We were not able to report on other parties’ results as the number of respondents was too small. We also look at the extent to which people’s attitudes vary by age.

The Health Foundation is an independent charity working to improve the quality of healthcare in the UK. We are here to support people working in healthcare practice and policy to make lasting improvements to health services. We carry out research and in-depth policy analysis, run improvement programmes to put ideas into practice in the NHS, support and develop leaders and share evidence to encourage wider change. We want the UK to have a healthcare system of the highest possible quality – safe, effective, person-centred, timely, efficient and equitable.

NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.

Media contact

Mike Findlay, Senior Media Manager
T: 020 7257 8047
E: mike.findlay@health.org.uk


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