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Britons still mistrust NHS despite improvements

Researchers have showed that many people mistrust the NHS even though spending has increased, waiting lists have fallen rapidly and death rates in the priority areas (heart disease and cancer) have improved sharply.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the study by Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby and Dr Andrew Wallace at the Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, also showed that most people thought recent NHS reforms were at best irrelevant and at worst damaging.

The reforms, initiated in the 1990s and vigorously pursued by the Government, rest on two basic principles: competition between hospitals and clinics with patients choosing where to go and the money following the patient – and targets set by the Government for treatment, health outcomes, waiting lists and other areas.

Comments from those surveyed included the following:

* “I don’t agree that you should be given a choice – everywhere should be the same standard – the budget should be the same and the waiting list should be the same.”

* “Choice is perhaps giving something to people that they don’t really need or don’t really want and the bureaucracy that surrounds the whole thing is money… wasted. It could just be spent directly on health care.”

* “They have got to think this through. Think about the people and the whole system and what it was set up for. They have completely forgotten the value of the NHS which is for… local people.”

People also made a sharp distinction between front-line staff, who they believed provided a high-quality service under difficult circumstances, and managers, who they viewed as distant, ill-informed about people’s needs and more concerned with balance sheets than with patient-centred care.

One interviewee stated that: “The NHS is too money-oriented. It feels like there is no humanity left in the NHS. There is no human compassion; it is just as if you are a piece of meat or a pound sign, or a number.”

Professor Taylor-Gooby said: “We need to improve the NHS and the new policies are making headway in this. However, if the reforms are seen as a waste of public money and are not trusted, there is a real danger that they could be counter-productive. The Government needs to do more to consult people and convince them that their concerns are being taken seriously.”

University of Kent