Just four in 10 patients are satisfied with general practice, a survey has found, which is among the lowest satisfaction across NHS services and the lowest within GPs since records began in 1983.
The King’s Fund and Nuffield’s Trust analysis of the latest British Social Attitudes survey of 3,112 people across England, Scotland and Wales, carried out between 16 September and 31 October 2021, found more (42%) were dissatisfied with general practice than satisfied (38%).
This means satisfaction in general practice is lower than any NHS service other than dentistry, and 30 percentage points lower than in 2019 (68%). General practice was previously the highest-rated service every year, until 2018 when ratings dropped to the previous record-low of 63%.
General practice leaders branded the news ‘devastating’ and said long-term underfunding of general practice was the root cause behind plummeting satisfaction levels.
This was supported by analysts, who said the squeeze on NHS funding and workforce was ‘decade-long’, although it was worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Overall, NHS satisfaction fell to 36%, with record falls across all individual services. This is fewer than the numbers dissatisfied (41%), the lowest since 1997 and a fall of 17 percentage points since 2020.
The report noted that general practice is the service used by the largest numbers of people, meaning patient dissatisfaction is ‘likely to have had a significant impact on overall satisfaction with the NHS’.
It continued: ‘Action to tackle waiting times for planned care is unlikely to be enough for public satisfaction with the NHS to recover. Addressing pressures on general practice and improving access for patients will be key if satisfaction is to rise in future years.’
When asked what the most important priorities for the NHS should be, the top three cited by survey respondents were making it easier to get a general practice appointment (48%), improving waiting times for planned operations (47%) and increasing NHS staff numbers (47%).
Meanwhile, waiting too long for a GP or hospital appointment was the most common reason given for dissatisfaction (65%), followed by staff shortages (46%) and government funding (40%).
The report also highlighted that the survey took place during ‘unprecedented changes in response to the pandemic’ such as a rise in remote consultations in general practice.
At the same time, satisfaction with social care remained lower than satisfaction with NHS services, with 15% saying they were satisfied and 50% dissatisfied in 2021.
‘Decade-long funding squeeze’
Dan Wellings, senior fellow at The King’s Fund said: ‘People are often struggling to get the care they need and identified access to general practice, waiting times for hospital care and staff shortages as areas that need to improve.
‘These issues have been exacerbated by the extraordinary events of the past two years but have been many years in the making following a decade-long funding squeeze and a workforce crisis that has been left unaddressed for far too long.’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said: ‘The truth is that the NHS in England has been underfunded for so long and we went into the pandemic frighteningly ill-prepared for what was to come. Now staff morale is at an all-time low with doctors leaving the NHS every day.
He also urged the Government to ‘change course and invest in the workforce’, adding that the BMA was ‘bitterly disappointed’ the spring statement didn’t make ‘any in-roads into tackling the increased demand and pressure that the NHS is now facing’