The British Social Attitudes Survey – What Can GPs Take Away From It?
The latest British Social Attitudes Survey has delivered some startling results to NHS professionals up and down the country. The survey, conducted by The King’s Fund, reveals that public satisfaction with GP services in Great Britain dropped by seven percentage points in 2017 to 65 per cent, the lowest levels since the survey began in 1983. The survey interviewed 3,000 adults across England, Scotland and Wales.
As Pulse Today report, this is the first time that general practice has not been the highest-rated service. In fact, the percentage of people who were dissatisfied with GP services also reached an all-time high, increasing by six percentage points to 23 per cent.
The Kings Fund commented on their findings, saying,
“While a one-year drop in GP satisfaction is worrying, the long-term trend is even more alarming. Satisfaction has been steadily decreasing for close to a decade from a high of 80 per cent in 2009.”
So what is causing this plummet in patient satisfaction? According to the Fund, it comes down to the following factors:
- pressures on GP services
- increases in patient demand
- a rise in patients with multiple chronic conditions and complex needs
- increasing requirement for treatments
Much of the pressure faced by GP services is said to be due to under-funding and under-staffing and not enough doctors to meet patient demand. BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul told GP Online that GPs in particular are facing the strain of cut-backs, saying,
“GPs are carrying out 40m more consultations than a decade ago and are struggling from a combination of rising demand, limited resources and a recruitment crisis. Patients are unfairly bearing the brunt of such significant shortfalls with longer waiting times for appointments.”
It is important to note that the survey was conducted on a sample of 3,000 people, meaning it is unlikely to be reflective of every patient in the U.K’s 65-million strong population. 65 per cent satisfaction, whilst far from perfect, is still far more than half, proving that, despite the difficulties faced by GPs, the vast majority are still stepping up to give patients quality care.
It also cannot be overstated that the issues are far from the responsibility of GPs themselves. The four main causes of dissatisfaction cited in the survey were staff shortages, long waiting times, lack of funding and government reforms. The National GP Patient Survey consolidates these findings, showing that it is the key experience measures that are on the decline. These measures include patients finding it harder to get through to the surgery on the phone and more difficult to see their GP of choice.
The top four causes of satisfaction, on the other hand, were quality of care, attitudes and behaviour of NHS staff, the range of services and treatments on offer and the fact that the NHS is free at the point of delivery. These cornerstones of the NHS philosophy and quality service clearly remain in place.
What can GPs learn from the social attitudes survey?
As Professor Helen-Stokes Lampard from the Royal College of GPs says:
“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.”
Lampard urges that the responsibility to rectify the fall in patient satisfaction lies with policy-makers. She says,
“We desperately need the pledges made in NHS England’s GP Forward View – including £2.4bn more a year for general practice, 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 more members of the wider practice team by 2020 – to be delivered in full.”
But what can GPs learn from the survey results? It is clear that now more than ever, effective communication between all areas of the GP practice are essential to satisfy the key experience measures such as response and waiting times that are failing patients. Now may also be the time to consider the options facing general practitioners.
With GP satisfaction itself on the decrease, many talented professionals are looking to step out of the general practice framework and work as an out-of-hours doctor. With health benefits including less stress and shorter working hours, and career benefits to match, this is becoming an increasingly attractive choice.