Why we all love the struggling NHS

Mustn’t grumble. That was departing NHS National Director Dame Barbara Hakin’s explanation of why patient satisfaction levels with the NHS remain at record highs despite severe pressures straining the entire system. In the latest NHS England board meeting Dame Barbara attributed this anomaly to the high numbers of elderly people who viewed their treatment under the NHS as something they should be grateful for, rather than a right.

Speaking with the candidness of someone imminently leaving their post (she subsequently also mentioned this was down to the hard work of NHS staff), her views are in large part correct. Logic would suggest that a generational shift may rebalance this unexplained disparity, however is it really just the elderly amongst us or does this psyche pervade us all?

Patient experience of hospital care has remained positive at a rate of around 75% for the last ten years. The regular public perception survey of the NHS by Ipsos Mori has consistently shown the vast majority of the public are happy with the way the NHS is run. We clearly like the NHS, but should we?

There are various different international measurements we can use. According to the Commonwealth Fund the NHS is the most efficient and equitable healthcare system in the world, placing it in top spot in the Fund’s league table. However if we look at a comparison of OECD outcome measurement in healthcare Britain features fairly lowly in key areas, including doctors per capita, MRI scanners per capita and more importantly cancer survival rates.

So a mixed picture but how to attribute this to consistently high levels of patient satisfaction? A beloved old Aunt beyond critique? A cultural deference to national institutions? A decade of vast improvements through increased expenditure from the late 90’s onward that lingers in the memory? An intrinsic sense of Britishness?  In truth a mixture of all these have made us immune to questioning our belief in the NHS and the quality of care we receive.

A push for greater transparency and data through the MyNHS website and others may change all this. There comes a point when you grow up when you realise your beloved old Aunt wasn’t actually that good a cook after all. Once we move beyond our reverence for the NHS we may begin to be more conditional with our love.