One-third of adults in England express doubts about their ability to receive timely healthcare

- By Healthwatch England

New research conducted in 2023, reveals a concerning lack of public confidence when it comes to accessing critical NHS services in England. Approximately one-third of adults in England express doubts about their ability to receive timely healthcare, including services such as GP appointments, mental health support, and hospital care.
Magnifying Glass

As we approach the winter season, we undertook a comprehensive survey of adults residing in England to gauge their confidence in accessing essential NHS services. This survey aimed to understand how public confidence has evolved throughout the year, particularly in the face of mounting challenges like increasing waiting lists, workforce issues, industrial actions, and other healthcare system pressures.

Our survey encompassed 2,507 respondents who were asked to assess their confidence levels in accessing 13 different NHS services, including A&E, ambulance services, non-urgent medical procedures, GPs, pharmacists, mental health services, and dental care.

Key Findings:

  • Public confidence appears to be lower when it comes to accessing GP services, preventive care such as mental health services and non-urgent procedures. However, there is relatively higher confidence in receiving more urgent care, such as A&E and 999 services.

  • The lowest confidence scores were reported for out-of-hours GP services (50%), followed by non-urgent operations and procedures (46%), mental health support (44%), GP services during regular hours (42%), and dental care (39%). Approximately a third of people lacked confidence in accessing A&E (31%) or an ambulance/paramedic (30%).

  • On average, 32% of respondents expressed either no confidence or very limited confidence in the NHS's ability to provide timely care across the 13 services. Conversely, 31% were totally or very confident in their ability to access timely care.

  • The research highlights that access to NHS care is an issue of health inequality. Vulnerable groups, such as those aged 65 and over, and individuals with financial struggles, have the lowest confidence in accessing NHS services.

Rob's Story:

Rob, a 52-year-old from Derby, shared his experience of waiting for a consultant appointment for over a year following bowel surgery. His attempts to book an appointment with his GP proved challenging, leading to anxiety about his health. Rob expressed his lack of confidence in the NHS and the difficulties he faced in obtaining appointments.

Louise Ansari, Chief Executive of our organization, emphasized the urgent need to address the lack of confidence in accessing timely care, particularly as the demand for healthcare is expected to rise during the winter season. She emphasized the importance of people seeking medical attention when needed and called for healthcare leaders to take action to improve patient communication and treatment plan documentation.

Additional Insights:

  • Nearly half of the respondents (43%) reported decreased confidence in accessing timely care compared to the beginning of the year, while only 16% expressed increased confidence.

  • Confidence in timely access was higher among those who had used a specific service within the last six months. For instance, 45% of individuals who had used an ambulance or paramedic service in the last six months were confident in accessing timely care from that service, compared to 30% of those who hadn't used such services.

  • The public prioritized accurate patient records (70%), being listened to by healthcare professionals (68%), timely access to support when needed, and receiving timely information or results (65%).

Our Recommendations:

To address these challenges, we have outlined three key requests:

  1. Develop patient experience measures that track expectations, confidence, and experiences.

  2. Establish a national plan to hire more non-clinical NHS staff to support patients with information about their care and alleviate concerns while they wait to access services.

  3. Provide additional support to individuals on long NHS waiting lists, including regular updates and access to relevant pain relief, mental health support, or physiotherapy.

About the Survey:

The survey was conducted by Savanta and included 2,507 adults in England between June 13 and July 7, 2023. Data were weighted by gender, age, region, and social economic grade, with an additional boost of 500 respondents from minority ethnic groups. The survey assessed confidence in accessing a wide range of NHS services, including NHS 111, 999, accident and emergency departments, diagnostic tests, hospital appointments, and various other healthcare services.