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Dr Mary McCarthy: Are we losing faith in the NHS?

Dr Mary McCarthy | Published:

The latest patient satisfaction survey suggests there is room for improvement in the NHS.

When the National Health Service was proposed, in 1948, Aneurin Bevan, the founder and the first Secretary of State for Health said that the NHS would survive as long as people had faith in it.

Since 1983, IPSI Mori have conducted satisfaction surveys to assess how the NHS is valued and appreciated, and the Kings Fund have just produced the latest of these. It shows that the peak ratings were in 2010 when 70 per cent of those questioned were either satisfied or very satisfied with NHS performance.

However, since then, satisfaction levels have steadily dropping to just 53 per cent.

This is not, statistically, a big difference from last year, but what is interesting are the reasons that people gave for their scoring. By and large they found services in hospitals and in general practice to be good with well-qualified and experienced NHS staff. They felt the staff were friendly, informed and helpful and that the treatment they got was of a high standard.

Their dissatisfaction was based on longer waiting times for a GP appointment and longer waits in A&E. Interestingly also, was the fact that they blamed this on government policies, on poor funding, poor resources and not enough staff to do the work required.

They said that they believed the NHS was consistently underfunded and as such, said that they would be prepared to pay more taxes in order to fund it appropriately.

Doctors, through their Royal Colleges and through the British Medical Association, have been talking about this lack of investment in health care for many years and it is very encouraging to hear the public, patients, their family and those who have not yet needed the services of the NHS, saying this as well.

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Indeed, responding to the latest survey results, the chair of the BMA council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said that NHS staff are “simply not given the tools and support to give patients the care they deserve”.

The National Health Service was and hopefully still is an amazing concept. The idea of free health care for all or a similar model has been since adopted in many countries as the NHS is world renowned. It should be cherished and protected but to do that it needs to be properly funded.

We haven’t got enough GPs for the UK population.

This of course creates a bad cycle as more patients and less GPs means more workload which in turns means less GPs.

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Doctors are either retiring early or going part-time, though in many cases, part-time GP hours still amounts to more than full-time in any other job.

One doctor recently said how glad she was to be able to work part-time and had now reduced her commitment to 38 hours a week.

This is a longer stretch of time than many full-time jobs so it is not surprising that younger GPs, with family responsibilities, are trying to achieve a better work-life balance.

One of the brilliant facets of the NHS is that it is very interdependent and a good example of collaborative working.

It is unsurprising that if staff are dissatisfied, then patients too would be dissatisfied. Ultimately, everything we do is for the patient – if they are not happy it is time to make some changes!

* Dr Mary McCarthy has worked at Belvidere Surgery in Shrewsbury for more than 20 years. She is chairman of the local medical committee and represents Shropshire, North Staffordshire and South Staffordshire on the General Practitioners Committee of the BMA.

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