The BBC reported this week on a poll which suggested that public satisfaction with the NHS has dropped to its lowest level for 25 years after a sharp fall during the pandemic.

We know to look carefully at polls and they are not always right-ask any politician-but this one was undertaken by the National Centre for Social Research in England, Scotland and Wales last autumn, and has been published by the Nuffield Trust and King’s Fund think-tanks. It is called the “British Social Attitudes” poll, often held up as the “gold standard” measure of public opinion.

The poll found that 36% of the 3,100  people polled were satisfied with the NHS in 2021, but that is a drop from 53% the year before and is both the largest fall in a single year and the second lowest since the poll began in 1983.

The fall in satisfaction was across all age and income groups and political party support had no bearing. More people – 41% – said they were dissatisfied than satisfied.

What was worse is that satisfaction in social care, which is run by councils, was even lower , with only a 15% satisfaction rating and more than half actively dissatisfied

The BBC comment that the NHS waiting-list backlog will take years to clear; hospital waiting lists hit six million in England; it was taking too long to get a GP appointment or hospital care and there was not enough staff.

Dan Wellings, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, described the findings as “extraordinary”.

Although we are medical negligence solicitors and see the fall-out from failings in the NHS and ancillary bodies on a daily basis, we do appreciate what a terrific resource the NHS is and that we would be lost without it.   We have all just lived through an unprecedented 2 years of a pandemic in which frontline staff worked themselves to exhaustion to keep up with the growing demands for treatment and it is no small part due to their efforts that we have come through it.

Of course there are backlogs and waiting lists; there was bound to be.  Is it a surprise that over-worked staff are quitting the medical profession with what they are being asked to do?  This has a knock-on effect-there are fewer staff to pick up the slack, so they have to work harder and many think it just isn’t worth it, so they quit and the cycle starts all over again.

But as one comment on the BBC report said:

“In 1948 we did not have:

  • Organ Transplants
  • CT and MRI Scanners
  • High Tech Diagnostic equipment
  • Most modern medicines
  • Lifestyle treatment demands
  • 400 Statutory NHS Organisation with CEOs and Boards”

That’s a conservative list.

We get all that. It’s getting harder and harder for a free- at- the- point- of- need service such as the NHS to keep up with and deliver that service. Many other countries do not think twice about patients making a contribution to their medical treatments, yet here there has been an outcry over the proposal to raise National Insurance contributions to improve NHS funding.  But we’re not getting political…….

But there is a definite undercurrent of resentment among the public that they can’t get even a telephone appointment with a GP, never mind face to face; referrals are taking in many cases 18 months and are then cancelled at the last minute; there is no continuity of care, often, we notice, leading to a wrong diagnosis as the full facts get lost; the elderly cannot get social care.  The anger often seems directed more at the management of the NHS than the actual staff, though GP’s seem to be singled out in dissatisfaction levels.

The frustration boils over and produces poll results like this one.

But all this is not new.

This poll comes hard on the heels of the damning Ockenden Report on the Shrewsbury maternity crisis, in which Donna Ockenden, the experienced midwife chosen to look into it, found that hundreds of events, including deaths of mothers and babies could and should have been avoided. This was well before the pandemic.  She cites 94 incidences of brain damaged babies and babies with cerebral palsy, which in her view should not have occurred.  If only a tenth of those brain injured children make successful claims for compensation for negligence, the figures will be astronomical.  A baby brain injury claim can run into tens of millions of pounds plus the legal costs.

Saffron Cordery, of NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, said the sharp drop in satisfaction was a “real concern” and added that “tackling staffing shortages was key to addressing the problems”

She may well be right.  Would it not make more financial sense for Trusts to use their funds to take on more staff?  It is a false economy to understaff,  as this leads to negligence and then money has to be paid out in compensation, to which, don’t forget, people are entitled by law if negligence is admitted or proved and found to have caused an avoidable injury. It is not a goodwill gesture on the part of the Trusts; it is the law.

But the problem is that people do not want to enter the medical profession these days, with its stresses, long hours and lack of resources to do a good job. Adam Kay’s recent, often difficult to watch TV series  “This Is Going To Hurt” was based on fact.

Where are these staff going to come from?  We call them “angels”, but these earthly angels still have to pay council tax and mortgages on their bricks and mortar clouds, fuel bills, food, clothes, though we are not convinced that more money is the complete answer.  Good working conditions count for a lot, as the pandemic has shown us.    Nursing and the medical profession generally is often called a “vocation” and there is an element of that, but no-one can afford to do something purely for the love of it, unless you’re Bill Gates, of course.

We don’t have the answers and although the NHS seems to stagger along, you do have to wonder how long it can survive in its present form.  But as is always said about banks, is it too big to fail?  We are an ageing population and medicine innovates all the time, so we can’t see it getting any better soon.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep on making sure that the Government, any Government of any political persuasion, keeps the problems firmly on the priority list and tries to do something about them.  MP’s need the NHS as well.  Remind them of this!

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