The NHS has never been so popular as it is now, according to health policy expert John Appleby, chief economist at think tank The King’s Fund.
Professor Appleby, writing in an article published online today by the BMJ, says more members of the British public than ever believe that the NHS is doing a good job and questions the government’s insistence on radical reform.
The article follows a report in the Observer newspaper at the weekend, which accused health secretary Andrew Lansley of “burying” similar survey results because they undermined his case for urgent reforms.
Professor Appleby referred to the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, which reported that 64% of the British public were either very or quite satisfied with the NHS - the highest level of satisfaction since the survey began in 1983, and part of a continuous upward trend since 2002.
The figures also showed that satisfaction with GPs had now reached 80% - 3% short of its highest level in the early 1990s.
Satisfaction with inpatient services fell slightly – by one percentage point – over the decade to 2009, despite year on year rises since 2006 following a long run decline since 1983.
Nevertheless, writes Professor Appleby, the public now seems much more satisfied with outpatient and A&E services than in 1999.
Professor Appleby acknowledged that interpreting responses (and their trends) to questions about satisfaction could be difficult, but said surveys such as the BSA “provide a useful indicator of the public’s general views about the NHS and its services”.
He concludes: “Over the last decade the NHS must have been doing something right to earn this extra satisfaction - something even Conservative supporters have noticed, and something probably not unadjacent to the large rise in funding since 2000.
“Future BSA surveys will reveal how satisfied the public remain as funding for the NHS is squeezed and the government’s proposed reforms take shape on the ground.”
The Observer article mentioned a survey commissioned by the Department of Health and carried out by Ipsos MORI last year that dealt with public perception of the NHS, but which has not been made public, because, said the newspaper, it showed high satisfaction with the NHS, which undermined the government’s argument of the need to reform the NHS.
A Department spokesperson said: “This is nonsense. The fact is that this data is collected for policy development purposes and has not been published since 2007.
“Recent published surveys show public support for change. This month an Ipsos MORI survey published by the Nuffield Trust showed that 65% of people believed that the NHS requires fundamental change.
“Our modernisation plans are not born of any lack of support for the NHS; on the contrary, it is to empower the NHS to achieve outcomes that are amongst the best in the world.”