LONDON - Public satisfaction with the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK) has fallen to its lowest ever level, with long delays to access care the biggest source of deepening frustration, a study has shown.

Just 24% of people across England, Scotland and Wales – the fewest on record – are satisfied with the health service, according to the latest British Social Attitudes research.

Satisfaction has plummeted by 29% since before Covid-19 emerged in early 2020 and by an enormous 46% from the highest-ever 70% recorded in 2010, when the Conservatives took power. It fell five points alone from 29% in 2022 to the 24% seen last year.

The number of people who are dissatisfied with the NHS is also at an all-time high – 52%.

Asked why they were dissatisfied, more respondents said that it took too long to get a GP or hospital appointment (71%) than mentioned any other issue. “Not enough NHS staff” was the second most-cited reason (54%), followed by “the government doesn’t spend enough on the NHS” (47%). Almost a third (32%) cited the NHS wasting money.

Dan Wellings, part of the team at the King’s Fund, which alongside fellow thinktank the Nuffield Trust analysed the BSA findings, said the results were “bleak but [also] should not be surprising after a year of strikes, scandals and sustained long waits for care”.

Satisfaction with GP services and NHS dental care has fallen to the lowest-ever level – just 24% for both services. Slightly more people, but still small numbers, are satisfied with A&E (31%) and inpatient services (35%). But satisfaction with social care services is even worse, at a mere 13%.

The Patients Association said it was dismayed by the BSA survey findings, which are seen as the authoritative picture of how the public is feeling about the NHS.

Years of mounting pressures on the NHS, and its increasing inability to meet treatment waiting times, have left its relationship with patients severely strained, the charity added.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said: “After 14 years of neglect, the NHS has never been in a worse state. Fewer than one in every four people say they are getting a good service, and who can blame them?

“Patients are waiting 18 months for an operation, more than a month for GP appointments and NHS dentistry barely exists any more. The Conservatives have taken the NHS to breaking point.”

The BSA survey, which was undertaken by the National Centre for Social Research, also found that:

- Eighty-four per cent think the NHS has a major or severe funding problem.

- Forty-eight per cent want the government to increase taxes and spend more on the NHS.

- Conservative voters are now almost as likely as Labour ones to not be satisfied with the NHS.

However, the results showed that, despite the NHS’s struggles, an overwhelming majority of the public remains committed to its founding principles – 91% believe it should be free of charge when people need it while 82% said that it should be funded primarily from taxation and available to everyone, regardless of income.

“The public do not want a different model; they just want the one they have to work,” said Wellings.

The state of the NHS, and the political parties’ plans to improve it, means it is set to be the number one issue in the general election campaign later this year, as separate recent polling by Ipsos found that it was the subject most voters mentioned when asked to identify the key issues facing the country, he added.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are providing the NHS with record funding of nearly £165 billion ($200 billion) a year by the end of this parliament, an increase of 13% in real terms compared to 2019.

“Overall NHS waiting lists have decreased for the fourth month in a row and we’ve delivered on our commitment to provide an extra 50 million GP appointments months ahead of schedule.”