Headlines: September 18th, 2006



A report today says the government’s failure to communicate its health service reforms effectively may be one reason for the big gap in patients’ and general public perceptions of the National Health Service. In “Lost In Translation” the NHS Confederation says patients consistently report high levels of satisfaction with the care they receive but statistics relating to public satisfaction ratings are consistently lower.

A study by Ipsos MORI found that the combined patient and public satisfaction rating for the NHS overall was 63 per cent but that the figure concealed major differences with the general public’s ratings being considerably more negative. This is supported by a survey by Populous. This found that on average patients rate areas of NHS care such as nursing, cleanliness and waiting times 12 per cent higher than the public as a whole.

“Lost in Translation” suggests there is a clue to the reasons for the big gap in the fact that patients and the public agree about GP services, which are used on average four to five times a year by every person in the UK. That means that when surveyed about GP services the public respond on the basis of personal experience and not on opinions drawn from elsewhere. Both patients and the public as a whole rate their satisfaction with this part of the NHS at around 80 per cent.

For other areas of the service people’s opinions take into account information from a range of sources and they are influenced by wider personal factors. The Ipsos MORI figures show the most important factors in determining public satisfaction with the NHS are political beliefs and support for the Government followed by age, poor experiences of Accident and Emergency services, NHS staff criticising the service and media coverage, particularly on radio and television.

Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said the public had become distrustful when they were shown evidence of improvement in the NHS. “It would seem that disenchantment with the Government translates into scepticism about the service. The Government has failed to communicate health reforms effectively to the public and this might be one reason why they rate their satisfaction with the NHS much lower than patients do,” he said.

Today’s report says, too, that the views of NHS staff continue to play a large part in the perceptions gap. Although many staff have a favourable view of their own organisations’ services a larger proportion are critical of their employer. Mr. Edwards added, “It is clear that both the NHS and the Government have a big mountain to climb in order to restore public and staff confidence in the NHS.” He said the NHS and the Government needed to work together to change the focus of the service back to the experience of the patient and the outcomes of their care.