Public confident in today's NHS but pessimistic about the future

The 70th birthday celebrations that took place earlier in the year are just the latest in a long line of examples illustrating the pride we take as a country in our NHS.
Patients sitting in a hospital waiting room.
  • Two thirds of people are confident in the ability of hospitals, GPs and care services to meet their current needs and those of their loved ones.

  • Yet just 1 in 3 people express the same level of confidence in health and care services in 20 to 30 years’ time.

  • New research suggests the public believe the answer lies in the NHS helping them to live healthier lives rather than focusing on illness.  

Indeed, confidence in the NHS remains high despite services having to cope with the pressures of caring for an aging population with limited funding.

New national polling reveals that most people (61%) are confident that the NHS and care services are able to meet any current health needs they may have. This confidence extends to meeting the needs of family and close friends (62%).

People are less confident about the ability of the service to meet the needs of their local community (49%), but even this is broadly positive when we consider that the public are bombarded by stories about the pressures on the service. Yet when it comes to the future, and what the NHS will look like as it approaches its 100th birthday, people are significantly less confident.

Less than a third (30%) of people expressed belief in the NHS and social care services being able to meet all their individual needs in 20 to 30 years’ time, falling to just over a quarter (27%) when asked the same question about the needs of relatives. Confidence also fell when people were asked about the ability of services to meet the needs of their local community (24%), with just 1 in 5 (21%) expressing confidence in services being able to cope with the demands of the country as a whole.

These results are published today as part of Healthwatch England’s ongoing #NHS100 conversation about what people want from NHS and social care services in the future.

Whilst the NHS 70th celebrations marked the achievements to date, this conversation is creating an opportunity for people across the country to come together and think about how we can tackle the new health and care challenges we face.

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To help kick-start the discussion Healthwatch polled a representative sample of over 2,000 UK adults in August 2018. The results suggest that despite their bleak view of the future, people see themselves as holding the key to helping services meet rising demand.

When asked about who is most responsible for ensuring people are healthy, respondents ranked themselves above the NHS, government, councils and others such as the food and drink industry.

Similarly, when asked to rank a list of possible influencing factors on the nation’s long-term health, people overwhelmingly put diet at number one (64%), followed by the level of exercise in people’s daily lives (49%) at number two. Number three was air pollution, global warming and climate change (40%).

But if people are to take the leading role in their own health they need a health and care system that helps them to live healthy and active lives, concentrating more on supporting wellness than treating illness. 


Commenting on the conversation so far Neil Tester, Deputy Director of Healthwatch England, said:

"Over the last 70 years the NHS has revolutionised the health of our nation. But as the NHS draws up its priorities for the next 10 years, and the Government sets out its vision for social care, now is the time to be thinking about the future possibilities not just celebrating past achievements.

"The future is never certain, but it is clear people are worried about what the next 20 to 30 years might hold for our NHS and indeed their own health. People are saying the best way to address this is for the health and care sector to create a culture where we all have an equal role in shaping where the NHS is heading.

"This conversation is all about creating that opportunity, where people having this debate can inform decisions about what services should look like, prepare people for the new ways in which care and support will be delivered and build people’s confidence that services will be able to meet their needs.

"What’s really interesting about this latest poll is the extent to which people believe it's up to them to help the NHS to be fighting fit at 100 by eating better and keeping fit.

"Does this mean a radical shift for health and care services where the NHS is more of a lifestyle coach - helping people to live well rather than just fixing them when things go wrong? Will this mean a big shift in how the NHS works with councils, charities and even employers to offer a broader range of help? People will have all sorts of ideas about this and I urge everyone to take this chance to tell us what they think."

— Neil Tester, Deputy Director of Healthwatch England

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