Is the NHS still part of what makes Britain great or a service in decline? A Journal poll has returned some surprising results.
When Danny Boyle was putting together an Olympic opening ceremony that celebrated all that was great about the UK, there was no doubt in his mind that the National Health Service would be part of that show.
So it was on the night of July 27, 2012, that hundreds of NHS staff joined the cast of professional actors and dancers, and the institution itself took its place alongside the Industrial Revolution, the internet, music and the monarchy in what has been described as Boyle’s “love letter to Britain”.
Two years on, that ceremony could now seem like the high point of the UK’s fondness for the National Health Service, a system that has since celebrated its 65th birthday but to many of its critics is showing the stresses and strains of old age.
In the period since London 2012, coverage of the NHS has been almost universally negative, peaking with the Stafford Hospital scandal that exposed shockingly poor levels of care at a hospital in the Midlands but with many other instances highlighting perceptions that the target-driven service had lost sight of its basic function.
Formed by the post-war Labour Government to provide “comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for prevention and cure of disease”, with services funded by general taxation and free at the point of delivery.
It is a service that has been copied by some countries, while others scratch their head at its perceived inefficiencies.
It is a service too that is constantly changing both to keep up with the pace of changes in healthcare and as different political administrations impose their own vision on the NHS.
As 2014 draws to a close, day-to-day running of the service is under massive strain, with warnings over winter pressures, the rising costs of treating an ageing population and the pressures of new and expensive new treatments. Last week NHS England recorded the highest numbers of emergency patients since records began.
Privatisation of parts of the service is an ever-present spectre and this year saw unprecedented NHS strikes as the Government declined to pass on the recommended 1% pay rise to many staff.
All of this has massive political implications. Senior Tories have admitted that the huge re-organisation of the NHS it started to implement when it took power four years ago has been the Coalition’s “biggest mistake”. As the parties head into campaign mode for next year’s General Election, the NHS is thought to be one area where Labour has a clear lead over the Conservatives.
At the same time, Monday’s story about 11 NHS trusts - including Newcastle - spearheading a world-leading project to map the genetic codes of 100,000 patients showed the more positive side of the NHS, with the health service using its unique position as a key pillar in UK society to drive a £300m project that could revolutionise the way people are treated in the future.
To guage public feeling about the NHS, The Journal commissioned a poll by Northumberland-based research specialists Other Lines of Enquiry using their inhouse Panelbase service, which has thrown up some surprising results.
Our first question simply asked people how they rated the NHS on a scale from excellent to very poor.
Nationally, 20% of people said the NHS was excellent and 47% good, with only 10% saying it was either poor or very poor. That level of satisfaction rose even higher in the North East, with 22% saying the NHS was excellent and 54% saying it was good. Just 8% of people in this region described the health service as poor or very poor.
Our second question asked whether people’s opinions of the NHS had changed as a result of the recent scandals like Stafford Hospital, coverage of which has been fairly relentless in the last few years.
But here again, our poll showed that the affection in which the NHS was held is hard to shake. Only 23% of people nationally and 18% in the North East said their faith in the NHS had been rocked by what has happened in recent years; 68% of people around the country and 76% in the North East have been unaffected.
Finally we asked people which party they trust the most to run the NHS.
The national poll put Labour (28%) ahead of the Conservatives (21%), though the largest single answer to that question was “don’t know” on 30%, suggesting that the issue is still up for grabs going into election year.
In the North East, Labour has a much clearer lead on the subject, with Labour getting 38% of people’s votes on the NHS and the Tories only 19%. (Again, three people in 10 responded to that particular question with “don’t know”, however.)
Despite a rough two years, it appears reports of the NHS’ demise are premature. The service might have seemed a little poorly, our poll suggests that it is fairly rude health and it faces up to the challenges of 21st century healthcare.