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British public do not have a strong provider preference for NHS-funded hospital treatment

Most people do not mind hospital care being provided by a contracted private or not-for-profit organisation, survey reveals

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Most of the British public are ambivalent over whether their NHS-funded hospital treatment is provided by an NHS-contracted private or not-for-profit body, according to findings from the British Social Attitudes (BSA).

A total of 2,878 adults in Great Britain were surveyed in the summer and early autumn of 2014 for the survey, and data related to the NHS was published in the report ‘Public attitudes to the NHS’ in a partnership between the Health Foundation and NatCen Social Research.

The findings showed that 43% of those polled do not have a preference for whether their NHS-funded hospital care is provided by the NHS or another provider (e.g. private company or not-for-profit body such as a charity or social enterprise). Only 39% expressed an active preference for this care to be delivered by the NHS.

Penny Young, chief executive of 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.”

More than half of those surveyed (51%) think that the NHS often wastes money and 58% would not support further cuts to other public services to preserve current levels of NHS provision.

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.”

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