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Is the NHS and social care working for everyone?

Engage Britain’s recent survey reveals that the NHS unites us in being ‘proud to be British’. But millions face having to go private, fighting for treatment or being dismissed by doctors.

Image of a hospital corridor
How much do the things people shared in community conversations chime with the wider public’s experience?

During the Spring and early Summer of 2021, over 700 people across the Britain took part in online conversations.

In groups of ten or so, communities from all corners of the country met to talk about their experiences of health and care. What’s working? And what could be better?

Many moving stories were shared in these 101 discussions. And, interestingly, several issues kept cropping up time and again.

It got us thinking: how much do the things people shared chime with the wider public’s NHS and social care experiences?

We decided to find out.

In July 2021, we organised a big survey of 4,000 people. And made sure the participants represented the country at large, to get as true a picture as possible.

What people spoke about is, indeed, happening on a much larger scale. So what sorts of things came to light? Here’s a quick run-down of the six main points people shared.

1. Pride in the NHS and gratitude for good care

Icon of 77% say the NHS makes them proud to be British

Just as our poll back in October 2020 showed, if there’s one thing almost everyone in Britain agrees on it’s how important health and care is. In fact, people ranked it the number one issue facing the country.

From our most recent survey, it remains one of the few things we all unite feeling positive about, too. With 77% saying the NHS makes them proud to be British.

Despite this national pride, and gratitude for the care received, people haven’t always had a smooth experience within our health and care services.

2. Being neglected or dismissed

Icon of 27% have recently felt dismissed by healthcare workers

27% of people feel dismissed by healthcare workers. From our community conversations, patients spoke of being told off, patronised or told their problem is not as bad as they are making out.

In extreme cases people have been accused of fabricating their experiences. This can have grave consequences, as being dismissed can lead to misdiagnosis and untreated conditions worsening.

Tellingly, 1 in 5 (21%) have gone private because they simply can’t get the treatment they urgently need.

Listening to people’s community conversations shed light on why. From people suffering in chronic pain for months. To others getting stuck in the system, passed from one person to another, without progress.

One lady’s need became so great she re-mortgaged her home to pay for treatment.

3. Falling through the cracks

31% struggle to know where to turn when they need health treatment. Unsurprising, then, that people are falling through the cracks.

In community conversations, many shared what a maze it can be to figure out where to seek help ­– whether that’s from your doctor, a local hospice or a specialist health charity.

People said they often felt like they were doing reams of research from scratch.

4. Failing to get the right support

One in six report having had to fight to get social care. This is felt particularly keenly in elderly care, where 18% say problems getting the support needed caused their loved ones more stress towards the end of their lives.

Rocketing waiting times don’t help matters, with one in four finding this had a serious impact on their mental health.

Two in five people (39%) have had to fight to get health treatment needed for them or a loved one, and one in four (23%) have had to do the same to get social care support. 

In community conversations, several people felt that if you can’t advocate for yourself, you simply can’t get adequate NHS or social care support.

5. Discrimination and second-rate care

Scratching beneath the surface, some bigger issues around discrimination have come to light.

One in five people from ethnic minorities report having experienced racism from NHS staff when seeking care for themselves or a family member. Once more, the community conversations help give some context:

18% of disabled people also report receiving second rate care. In conversations, the phrase most often used was feeling like ‘second class citizens’.

Disabled people, and their families, often find health and care staff don’t consult them properly when treating or caring for them.

Sometimes doctors dismiss symptoms that are unusual and troubling for them as being part of their disability.

6. A disjointed, underfunded system

So where do these health and care problems stem from?

71% of people living in Britain think health and care services are underfunded. While 83% feel unpaid carers aren’t valued enough, as one lady explained in her community conversation:

Where to now?

Despite all the patient concerns shared above, it’s reassuring that 85% of the British public are sensitive to the uphill battle health and care staff face on a daily basis. They recognise that they are doing their very best in extremely difficult circumstances.

Across the country, the take-home message to the powers-that-be couldn’t be clearer: our health and care services are buckling under the weight of the demands being placed upon them.

Engage Britain’s director, Julian McCrae, sums it up well:

 “The NHS unites so many of us with a feeling of pride. But the fact is millions are also being let down every day by our health and care services…It’s vital that future changes address the daily challenges that so many in Britain are facing. Only answers rooted in real experiences can deliver health and care that works for us all.”

Julian McCrae, Director of Engage Britain

Shaping services around people’s real life experiences, both patients and staff, is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have.

Check out our new infographic, showing the highlights of our recent survey. To find out how Engage Britain is helping put people at the heart of health and care decisions, click here.

About the survey

Survey commissioned by Engage Britain and conducted by Yonder to investigate themes coming out of the community conversations and explore views on health and care.

It was a nationally representative survey of 4,010 UK adults. Online fieldwork undertaken 5-8 July 2021. Data are weighted to the UK population profile by age, gender, region, socioeconomic grade and ethnicity.

For any media queries, please email Freya Barnes

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