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Britons Say Health of NHS Failing

by Steve Crabtree

Criticism over the government's handling of the anthrax scare last fall has led to calls for an overhaul of the U.S. public health system. Time magazine reported last week that "experts agree that the weaknesses exposed in the wake of the anthrax attacks must be fixed -- and in such a way that a newly nimble system can handle both the sudden emergency and the everyday job of fostering national wellness." Policy-makers such as Sens. Ted Kennedy, D- Mass., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn., have called for increased funding to address the problem, which is sure to receive considerable attention in this election year.

But if lawmakers are looking for models to help improve the system, they may want to avoid Britain's vaunted National Health Service (NHS). A recent Gallup UK poll* for the Daily Telegraph found that dissatisfaction with the NHS is on the rise, despite considerable budget increases since the Labour Party came to power in 1997.

Use of the NHS remains very high, as is Britons' satisfaction with their personal experiences -- 86% report being satisfied with the treatment they or a family member received at the doctor in the last six months, and 77% were satisfied with the treatment they or a family member received at the hospital.

But when asked for their opinions of the system as a whole, the British public was more likely to express discontent than they were when similar questions were asked four years ago:

  • The number of those who now call the NHS a "failure" has doubled since 1997, from 10% to 20%.
  • Only a third of Britons (33%) currently consider the system to be in "reasonably good health," with 46% saying it is in "somewhat failing health" and another 19% describing it as "very poorly indeed."
  • Forty percent (40%) of the British public say they think the NHS is getting worse, as opposed to 13% who feel it is getting better and 45% who say it is staying about the same.
  • When asked about specific sources of dissatisfaction, 60% agree that NHS hospitals "are frequently not as clean as they should be," 83% agree that "waiting times in Accident and Emergency are often far too long, and 89% agree that "waiting times for NHS operations are often far too long."
  • Eighty-two percent (82%) agree that there is a lot of bad management and waste in the NHS.

Finally, while 56% of Britons say that given the choice they would prefer to rely on the NHS, 40% say they would prefer to "go private" if they could.

*Based on telephone interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 18+, conducted Dec. 11-20, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.

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