As the NHS turns 75, what do the public think about our most high profile public service?

  • Insight
  • 5 July 2023

Our polling and focus group insights show a country that is proud of their health service, but uncertain about its future.

1. The NHS is top of mind for many

Supporting the NHS is consistently among the top issues of concern for the public and over the past year has occupied the number two spot after the cost of living. Public concern centers around the difficulty of getting an appointment, the length of waiting lists and worries about the state of A&E. In focus-group conversations, concern about the NHS is typically one of the first topics to come up unprompted.

2. The NHS makes people proud to be British

The NHS is by far the institution that people are most likely to be proud of, with more than double the number of people saying that the NHS is something they are proud of in the UK today, compared to the countryside and nature, the next highest rank. In focus groups, people tell us the NHS embodies the values that make them proud to be British, selflessness, care for those in need and compassion. 

3. Strong support for striking nurses

Nurses, paramedics and doctors are the only group of striking workers that the public clearly back; opinion on teachers and postal workers is more split, while for other groups such as head teachers, train drivers and civil servants the public are more likely to say they are wrong to strike. People’s support for striking medical workers is rooted in their belief that conditions in the NHS aren’t good enough, and people’s sense that particularly after the pandemic medical workers need to be fairly rewarded and respected for the work they do.

4. Everyone has a story of frustration or failure

But people don’t think the NHS is working in the way it should. In our focus groups, people often share ‘horror stories’ about lengthy delays for hospital appointments. However, this failure is usually attributed to lack of funding, or to misdirected funding - particularly the idea that the NHS spends too much money on managers rather than clinical staff. The exception here is GP surgeries, where our focus groups have identified increasing frustration and a willingness to reform the model and to end reliance on outdated booking systems.

5. People don’t think the NHS should be immune from criticism

While people strongly agree that we don’t appreciate the NHS enough and often have unrealistic expectations of the service, they are also more likely to agree than not that we don’t do enough to challenge the NHS for poor quality services and that the NHS is responsible for keeping people healthy.

6. Privatization is unpopular, paying for services is not

The public overwhelmingly opposes privatization of the NHS by 74 per cent to 11 per cent. However, they are more open to the idea that some NHS services should be paid for by those who can afford them (51 per cent agree compared to 22 who per cent disagree) and also are narrowly more likely to agree than disagree that they would pay for some NHS services in exchange for higher quality treatment (43 per cent - 31 per cent).

7. The threat of losing the NHS is driving insecurity

Worries about the reliability and safety of the NHS are manifesting themselves as people feeling less secure about their future generally. People worry they won’t be able to get the care they need in a timely manner.

8. Uncertainty about the future of the NHS

People overwhelmingly across age groups think that the NHS should remain free at the point of use in thirty years - though this is slightly lower for boomers and the silent generation. But asked whether the NHS will still be free at the point of use only quarter have confidence that it will be. This reflects people’s wider fears about the future of the service.