Britain ready to support reforms of 'money pit' NHS

Polling for The National shows many are open to private involvement in health care

A survey showed 47 per cent of UK adults believe the NHS is 'not working' and requires significant reform. PA
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Many among the British public are ready to embrace reforms to the National Health Service amid fears it has become a “monstrous money pit”, polling for The National has found.

An exclusive Deltapoll survey showed 47 per cent of UK adults believe the NHS is “not working” and that “significant reform” is needed.

Another 40 per cent would support “some reforms”, with only eight per cent saying the NHS’s operations “should not change”.

The poll showed that 48 per cent would support a “greater role for private healthcare providers” if it helped reduce pressure on services, with 31 per cent opposed.

The state of the NHS is invariably a top voter priority, and the poll makes grim reading for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. As an election year looms, 65 per cent of adults are unhappy with the government’s handling of the health service.

Voters are also dissatisfied with Mr Sunak’s record on immigration, the economy, crime, Brexit and the cost of living, the wide-ranging poll revealed. He scored better marks on international relations and the war in Ukraine.

Speaking at The National’s poll launch, Deltapoll’s co-founder Martin Boon said dissatisfaction with the NHS was threatening its place as a “national institution” and the “pride and joy” of Britain.

Founded in 1948 under the principle of “free at the point of delivery”, the NHS was celebrated in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics and any suggestion of reform is politically dicey.

However, the public “are recognising now that the NHS has become a monstrous money pit, a huge beast which is probably unaffordable,” said Mr Boon.

“The view of the NHS is changing. That’s probably been the case for four or five years as people now have come to agree that we can’t keep simply throwing money at the NHS and seeing it swallowed in wages and salaries without seeing improvements in primary care facilities.”

UK spending on health care hit £283 billion ($345.3 billion) last year. The National has revealed how many patients have turned to private hospitals because of long NHS waiting lists. The delays have been compounded by strikes among junior doctors, consultants, nurses and ambulance staff.

The NHS sometimes turns to private providers itself, meaning treatment remains free for patients. Any move towards bringing in charges for patients would be sure to set off a political storm.

“Absorbing private care into NHS delivery is now something people recognise. It’s being done already,” Mr Boon said. “I think people just want to see outcomes, positive outcomes.”

The NHS through the decades – in pictures

Older people who most rely on the NHS are almost unanimous that it needs improvement. Among those aged over 65, the poll found 96 per cent would back some changes, including 58 per cent who would support significant reform.

The opposition Labour Party regards the postwar creation of the NHS as one of its proudest achievements, but 40 per cent of its supporters would now back significant change, the poll found.

With the Conservatives deep underwater in the polls, Mr Sunak has made cutting NHS waiting lists one of his five pre-election priorities. The poll shows that even 60 per cent of Tory voters are unhappy with the government’s record on health care.

Deltapoll interviewed 2,039 British adults between September 11 and 15.

Updated: September 29, 2023, 9:31 AM