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MAY 27/2014

The new NHS satisfaction data: an opportunity for further improvement?

For those working in NHS jobs, patient satisfaction should be considered a number one priority. After all, the very purpose of the entire healthcare system is to ensure that patients receive high-quality, fast and effective care in a way that caters to both their medical and personal needs.

This is why the British Social Attitudes survey, compiled annually by The King's Fund, represents an important barometer of progress on its publication each year. It provides those working within the NHS, as well as those overseeing it, with valuable data on the areas in which the UK healthcare system is performing well, as well as those that still need improvement.

Earlier this month, the thinktank published its survey data for 2013. This report - which shows a generally high level of happiness with the NHS at the moment - is particularly important as it comes a year before the 2015 general election, and could have an impact on future policy decisions.

Public satisfaction levels stabilising
The headline figure from this year's report reveals that 60 per cent of people in the UK are satisfied with the overall performance of the NHS - largely unchanged from the 2012 survey.

Although still lower than the record high of 70 per cent that was measured in 2010, it suggests that public confidence in the NHS has stabilised following the drop seen in 2011. Indeed, only two of the past 30 years have seen satisfaction levels greater than those recorded in 2012 and 2013.

This would suggest the health service is generally performing better again after recent disruptions, which may have been associated with a change of government policy and the introduction of sweeping reforms.

The NatCen Social Research-led survey also revealed a number of areas in which strong progress has been made. For example, satisfaction with hospital outpatient services climbed to a record high of 67 per cent in 2013, while happiness with inpatient services jumped six percentage points to 58 per cent. 

Meanwhile, public confidence in GP services was unchanged at 74 per cent and general appreciation of the services offered by dentists remained steady at 57 per cent.

Where can improvements still be made?
However, the survey also revealed a number of areas where progress has slowed - findings that could underpin future reform efforts and decision-making processes.

For example, satisfaction with A&E services dropped by six per cent from 2012 to 53 per cent, its lowest level since 2008, at a time when many hospitals have seen a rise in waiting times. This statistic will likely accelerate efforts made by the government to take pressure off the emergency services by adopting a new long-term, preventative approach to treatment.

Expanded opening hours for GPs, greater patient choice over treatment plans and an increased focus on community-based services will all serve to reduce the number of patients attending hospital A&E departments in the coming months, and the government will be hoping to see its efforts reflected in next year's survey.

Meanwhile, the study also showed the social care sector needs further improvement, with only 29 cent of respondents feeling very or quite satisfied with their social care and an equal proportion being dissatisfied. Given that home care and social services are expected to take on a larger proportion of the overall care burden in coming years, the Department of Health is likely to redouble its efforts in this area as well.

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