Public opinion on the NHS and privatisation


There have been numerous opinion polls and surveys across the years related to public satisfaction with the NHS. One opinion that has remained strong across decades of surveys is that the NHS should be continue to be tax funded and free at the point of use.

However, since 2010 with austerity and the 2012 Health and Social Care Act reforms to the NHS, public satisfaction for services have dropped. A poll conducted by Ipsos Mori, commissioned by the King's Fund, in 2018 found that 40% felt that services have gotten worse in the last 5 years.

% of people who believe the NHS should remain tax funded and free at the point of use for all.

% of people who think taxes should be increased to fund the NHS

% of people who predict there will be some level of change in the NHS in the next 70 years (either paying for some services or it ceasing to exist at all)


Overall findings

The overall consensus across public opinion is that the NHS should remain a tax-funded public service that is free at the point of use and that the NHS should be the priority for any exrta government funding. It was reported that in 2017, 83% of voters wanted more money spent on the NHS.

Importantly though, when YouGov investigated what the public thought about who should run a variety of public services. 84% of respondents stated that the NHS should be run in the public sector. Backing for NHS funding has remained consistently strong whilst support for other welfare spending has dwindled in recent decades.

you gov nationalisation vs privatisation

Source: YouGov 2017

An Ipsos Mori report in 2018 presented results from polling that showed 8 in 10 of the public say that the NHS is crucical to society and we must do everything we can to ensure it stays in its current form. Additionally, around 9 in 10 say they are committed to ensuring the NHS remains free at the point of access and provides a comprehensive service to everyone.

The Health Foundation analysis of this survey revealed that 61% of people provided a score of 10 out of 10 when asked how much they agree on the founding principles of the NHS. This is an increase of 12% from 2015.

ipsos mori

Source: Health Foundation 2017

Ipsos Mori also conducted a series of deliberative discussion events with the King's Fund on NHS funding in 2018. When asked about how well they thought that the NHS spent its money, 50% responded that they felt the NHS often wasted money. Notably, examples given on what this money was wasted on included; private finance intiatives; procurement processes; and spending on private hospitals for procedures on NHS patients.

It is not only the general public that are worried about the privatisation of the NHS. Back in 2013 YouGov conducted a survey of NHS Professionals regarding the 2012 reforms to the health service from the Health and Social Care Act. 31% of respondents felt that the main intention of government reforms was to increase privatisation in the health service. Additionally, 31% also believed that increased privatisation had been one of the main impacts of these reforms.

These poll results suggest that the public are genuinely worried about the current state of the NHS. Multiple surveys point to the fact that much of the public would be willing to pay more tax to the NHS and that the health service should be a major target for investment. Not only this, but the overwhelming majority of people believe it should remain a public service and some of the main wastes of money are spending on private initiatives.

How has opinion changed?

The King's Fund analysed how public attitudes to the NHS have changed over the last three decades since surveys began in the 1980s. Health has remained the public's number one priority for any extra government spending. This is despite significant differences over these periods in the level of NHS investment from the government.

The public have also consistently been asked whether taxes should be raised, kept the same or lowered to pay for health, education and social benefits. The idea of lowering taxes has been continuously rejected by a huge majority of the public. Support for increase in taxes between 1983 and 1991 doubled to 65% but then fell back to 32% in 2010. However, public support for an increase began to grow again for the first time in a decade. This suggests that people are not as happy with the level of spending the NHS is receiving.

Most importantly to come from this analysis is that every time the public have been asked what should or should not be a government responsibility, more than 90% of the public think healthcare should be. The proposal of a means tested system has also been opposed consistently by two thirds of the population over the decades.

What do people think for the future?

Protecting the core values of the NHS, to remain free at the point of use and maintaining quality care for all is a value seemingly shared by a majority of the public through the results of multiple opinion polls and surveys. Despite this, as the NHS celebrated its 70th birthday in 2018 there was a genuine concern from people about the future of the service in its current form.

A NHS at 70 public perceptions survey found that only 1 in 5 people believe that in 70 years from now the NHS will remain free at the point of use. A huge 77% of people predict that there will be some level of change, either through paying for services or that the service will not exist at all.

Every month Ipsos Mori and King's Fund ask the public what the main issue that is effecting the country is. Since 2012, concern for the NHS has been rising and health concern is now a top concern for the public. 9 in 10 people think the NHS will face severe funding pressures in the future.

A survey across 25 countries rank Britain as third in terms of people rating the NHS as 'good' but also has the highest level of concern from the public. 62% of the public is more pessimistic about the NHS than any other service.

This worry for the future is something that is seemingly felt by large swathes of the population. It makes the discussion surrounding NHS funding and privatisation even more important with so many people caring about it and relying on it.

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