Brits prioritise NHS above waiting times

  • NHS staff pay and working conditions outrank wait times as highest priority health and care issue 
  • Health and care found to be the public’s top priority ahead of other issues polled such as poverty and the environment 
  • Mental health services highlighted as area for improvement, particularly among younger respondents 

The British public wants to see improvements for NHS staff pay and working conditions before addressing their own personal healthcare needs, such as reducing wait times for appointments, according to a new report. 

The study, from new charity Engage Britain, asked the UK public to rank a range of issues facing the nation in order of priority. The findings show that the challenges faced by the health and care sector have united the nation as the primary concern across all demographics. 

When asked to list their top three priorities for health and care, almost two fifths (39%) state that improving pay and conditions for healthcare workers is among the most important. 

Equally pressing is the need to address staff shortages in the NHS and social care, with 39% also featuring the issue in their top three. 

Reducing wait times faced for GP and hospital appointments was found to be of lesser importance than addressing the challenges faced by those working in health and care, with only a third (33%) choosing access to timely care in their top three priorities for improving the system.  

Inequality in health and life expectancy 

Addressing racial inequality linked to health and life expectancy was ranked as the lowest priority, with just 8% of respondents choosing this issue as one of their top three priorities. However, this was a higher priority issue for those from Black, Asian, Chinese, mixed-Ethnic, or other Ethnic backgrounds (not including White), where almost one in four prioritised investigating and addressing the inequalities linked to race (23%) in their top three priorities.  

The difference in urgency to address potential inequalities may come as a result of differing perceptions regarding the standard of treatment for all. Almost three quarters of white respondents (73%) believe the NHS provides an equal service irrespective of ethnicity, whereas this figure was lower (64%) when polling those from Black, Asian, Chinese, mixed-Ethnic, and other Ethnic backgrounds (not including White). 

Mental health challenges 

Brits are quite certain that access to health services will continue to be readily available – with 72% stating they trust that the NHS will always be there for them when they need it. But opinions around mental health services were less unanimous. 

Two fifths (40%) of younger respondents (aged 18-34) ranked the need to increase mental health support in their top three priorities for improving health and care systems, compared to 16% of the older generation (aged 55 and over). 

And when it came to providing additional funding to boost health and care services, older respondents were most likely to support an increase in taxes – three quarters (75%) of those aged 55 and over agreed with funding the NHS through increased tax revenue, compared to a lower 54% of those under 35-years-old. 

Access to care in old age 

Looking to the future, three in five (60%) Brits say they have never really considered how they would pay for care when they grow older, including 47% of those aged 55 and over. This is despite as little as 40% of Brits believing that a member of their family would receive publicly funded care.  

Female respondents are most against the idea of a family member moving into a publicly funded care home, with over a third (34%) stating they would not be comfortable with this, compared to just 24% of men. 

Engage Britain Director, Julian McCrae, said: “The healthcare challenges we have faced this year mean we are more united than ever before around the support for our NHS. Despite the portrayal of a divided nation, whichever way we look at our data – whether that’s by age, gender, location or political allegiances – concern for health and care access is ranked number one. 

“It is encouraging to find many of us thinking of NHS staff before our own needs – their heroic behaviour throughout this pandemic has galvanised support for suitable pay and working conditions for those involved.” 

ENDS

Notes

  • Survey commissioned by Engage Britain and conducted by BritainThinks to investigate public attitudes towards public policy challenges facing the UK 
  • The research utilised a MaxDiff methodology to elicit priorities amongst these challenges from a nationally representative survey of 2,448 UK adults 
  • Research conducted in September 2020