Public satisfaction with GP services has fallen to its lowest level since records began in 1983, according to the annual British Social Attitudes survey.
Satisfaction dropped seven percentage points to 65% in the 2017 study, making it the first time general practice has not been the highest-rated NHS service.
The study showed people were happy with the care given by GPs, but were unhappy about things like waiting times.
Public satisfaction with the NHS fell six percentage points from 2016.
Only 57% of people were happy with the service – the lowest level since 2011 – while dissatisfaction has risen to 29% – the highest level in a decade.
The survey was conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and analysed by the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund think tanks.
A nationally representative sample of 3,004 people in England, Scotland and Wales were asked about their overall satisfaction with the NHS and 1,002 of them were also quizzed about their satisfaction with individual NHS services.
The main reasons for satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the overall service were:
- quality of care
- free at the point of use
- attitudes and behaviour of NHS staff
- range of services and treatments available
- staff shortages
- long waiting times
- lack of funding
- government reforms
“The public used to put GPs on a pedestal,” said Ruth Robertson, fellow at the King’s Fund. “But since 2009, when there was an 80% satisfaction rating, it has been steadily declining.
“It shows the impact of the huge pressure on GPs and the public is responding to that.”
However, Ms Robertson was keen to stress that the NHS was still highly valued by the public.
“More people are satisfied with the NHS than are dissatisfied,” she said. “They showed really strong support for the core value principles of the NHS.
“I think this shows that it is not falling out of favour, but people are worried about the NHS and they are worried about funding and staffing shortages.”
The age group which was most satisfied with GPs was people aged over 65 and Ms Robertson added: “This is because they see GPs more often so build up a stronger personal relationship with them.”
Prof John Appleby, chief economist and director of research at the Nuffield Trust, told the BBC: “These results should make the government sit up and take notice.
“If they want to see satisfaction rise, my suggestion is they should think seriously now about more money for healthcare over the next few years.
“The public are concerned about headline measures and things they really notice like waiting times.
“We have seen over the last 18 months or two years increasingly hospitals miss their targets in terms of their A&E waiting times and their inpatient waiting times.
“We know that people are increasingly dissatisfied with their access to getting GP appointments and so on, so there is clearly something to be done.
“It’s not just about money to fix these problems but these are the things that the public notice and they care about, so it’s something that the government should also notice and care about.”
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An Ipsos/Mori poll published at the start of February showed that nearly half the public felt the biggest issue facing Britain was the NHS (48%), more than those with concerns about Brexit (46%).
Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “This is extremely distressing news for hard-pressed GPs and their teams who are working flat out to do the very best they can for their patients in increasingly difficult circumstances.
“But while we are very disappointed in these figures, they are hardly surprising as what we are seeing now is symptomatic of the inevitable effects of a decade of underinvestment in our family doctor service – and just not having enough GPs in the system to meet demand.
“Our service is the lifeblood of the NHS – we manage risk and uncertainty as well as considering all aspects of our patients’ lives when delivering care.
“Without general practice, other NHS services would crumble, but we urgently need more support, including more GPs, if we are to deliver the safe and effective care that our patients need and have come to rely on.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Just last year, the NHS was rated as the best and safest health system in the world by independent experts and, as this report itself points out, the majority of patients are satisfied with the NHS.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This report exposes widespread public dissatisfaction with NHS performance under this government, as years of overstretched budgets take their toll on frontline services.”