Public satisfaction with the NHS has fallen to the lowest level ever recorded according to analysis of the latest British Social Attitudes survey (BSA) published by The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust.

For the first time in the 41-year history of the survey, less than 1 in 4 people are satisfied with the way the NHS is running. 

Dissatisfaction is also at an all-time high, with more than half (52%) of respondents saying they were dissatisfied with the NHS. Top reasons for dissatisfaction were:

  • Long waiting times (71%)
  • Staff shortages (54%)
  • Lack of government funding (47%)

Nearly half (48%) of the public would support the government increasing taxes and spending more on the NHS. 

Those on the highest household incomes were more likely to choose this option.

Support for founding principles

Despite low levels of satisfaction, public support for the founding principles of the NHS is as strong as ever. 

The overwhelming majority of respondents expressed high levels of support for the following principles when asked if they should still apply in 2023: 

  • Free of charge when you need it (91%)
  • Primarily funded through taxation (82%) 
  • Available to everyone (82%)

Of those who were satisfied with the NHS, the top reasons were:

  • Because NHS care is free at the point of use (66%)
  • The NHS has a good range of services and treatments available (53%)
  • The quality of NHS care (52%)

The survey also measures public opinion on specific NHS services. 

Public satisfaction with GP services – historically the service with the highest levels of public satisfaction – now stands at 34%, the lowest level recorded since the survey began. 

Satisfaction with NHS dentistry has fallen to a record low of 24%. 

Public satisfaction with inpatient services is at a historically low level (35%) as is satisfaction with outpatient services (44%). 

However, 31% said they were satisfied with A&E services – up 1 percentage point on the previous year.

Depressing but not surprising

Dan Wellings, Senior Fellow at PIF member The King’s Fund said: "These results are depressing but sadly not surprising. The NHS has seen no respite from the issues that have led to an unprecedented downward spiral in public satisfaction in recent years.  

"With the health service increasingly unable to meet the expectations and needs of those who rely on it, public satisfaction with the NHS is now in uncharted territory. 

"The size of the challenge to recover it is growing more difficult with each passing year. Ahead of the upcoming general election, political leaders should take note of just how far satisfaction with this celebrated public institution has fallen.

"The public are clear that they want shorter waits for care, better staffing levels and more funding. Despite the challenging economic circumstances, our analysis suggests that one in two people may be prepared to pay more for the NHS through taxation, especially those with the deepest pockets."

The BSA Survey 2023

The BSA survey, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) in September and October 2023, is seen as a gold-standard measure of public attitudes in Britain.

Read the full analysis via The King's Fund website here.

Listen to a King's Fund podcast discussing the state of health and care ahead of a general election here.