HealthScare: Britons increasingly worried about the state of the NHS in the post-pandemic period

Beth MannSenior Research Executive
January 05, 2024, 10:56 AM GMT+0

Confidence in the Conservatives' handling of the NHS has plummeted

With a general election likely this year, both the Conservatives and Labour will be looking to set out their pitches to the public. With ‘health’ currently sitting second on the list of issues that are most important to Britons (at 45%, including 56% of 2019 Labour voters and 41% of 2019 Tory voters), Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer will both be hoping to promote their credentials for looking after the NHS.

The prime minister is going to have a hard time defending the government’s record. Since our website trackers started in 2019, the government has been seen to be handling the National Health Service pretty poorly.

Post-pandemic we have seen a steady decrease in satisfaction with how the NHS is being run, hitting the lowest point in January last year when just 9% said it was being handled ‘well’ and 86% said ‘badly’. Opinion has flatlined at about this level for the past 12 months, with still only 12% now saying it is being handled well, and those saying ‘badly’ sitting at 82%. In fact, it is seen as the second worst handled issue, behind only immigration.

Labour and Conservative voters have similar views on the topic. An overwhelming 91% of 2019 Labour voters believe the current government are handling the issue badly, as do three quarters of 2019 Conservative voters (74%).

At the same time, most people feel that the state of NHS services nationally are now bad (69%) rather than good (20%). This is quite a steep deterioration over the last couple of years - back in January 2022 these figures were much more positive, with 47% saying good and 40% bad. Locally, we have seen the same pattern of growing dissatisfaction, but Britons are more positive about the state of local NHS services - currently 50% say they are ‘good’ and 42% say they are ‘bad’.

Indeed, while Britain is a nation that prides itself on the world stage as having a great public-funded health service, in the last couple of years public confidence has taken a substantial knock when comparing ourselves to our European neighbours.

Prior to the pandemic, around one in three felt the NHS was better than its European counterparts (32% in February 2020), with 26% thinking it was about the same, and only 17% considering it worse.

Attitudes have now flipped, with Britons more likely to consider the NHS worse than European healthcare systems – 28% say so, compared to 20% who still think it is better. The proportion who think they are about the same remains unchanged, at 25%.

But do Britons think the NHS has reached rock bottom and can now only get better?

The short answer is no. A total of 56% believe the NHS will only get worse over the next few years, while only 14% think it will get better and a further 22% think it will stay in the state it is now. Concerns with how the NHS will fare over the next few years began to grow back in June 2020, and by the end of the worst of the pandemic (January 2022) we saw 51% saying they think services will ‘get worse’ over the next few years.

Would Labour or the Conservatives be better for running the NHS?

When looking at who Britons think would handle the NHS best, Labour hold a clear lead, with 39% Keir Starmer’s party and the Conservatives trailing behind on 11%. This gap has grown over the last couple of years, with January 2022 seeing Labour on 33% and the Conservatives on 20%.

Importantly, whilst 2019 Labour voters’ confidence in their party to handle the issue has remained pretty consistent over this time – sitting at a strong 70% – we have seen a striking decrease in 2019 Conservatives’ confidence in their own party, from 50% in January 2022 to 27% now. At the same time, 2019 Tories’ confidence in Labour has grown from 11% to 21% now.

You can see data from all of our NHS trackers here

Photo: Getty

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