As this year’s party conference season gathers pace, new polling from Ipsos and the Health Foundation shows the public wants additional investment in the NHS. With neither of the two main parties having yet committed to the future funding increases the NHS will need, the findings underline that the parties risk being out of step with public opinion.
Four out of 5 people (80%) support additional funding for the NHS according to the survey. This includes a clear majority across the political spectrum, including among people planning to vote Labour (93%), Liberal Democrat (90%), Conservative (60%) and ‘Other’ voters (66%). Overall support has remained unchanged from November 2022, despite continuing concerns about the cost of living.
When asked what they thought were the top priorities for the NHS, 40% of people said addressing the pressure or workload on staff, 39% said increasing the number of staff in the NHS and 34% said improving waiting times for routine services such as diagnostic tests or operations.
The public’s views about the future of the NHS, social care and public health are pessimistic, although slightly less so than 6 months ago. Around half of people expect the general standard of NHS (54%) and social care (52%) services to get worse over the next year, while 50% think the public’s overall health and wellbeing will get worse.
On social care, the public’s top priorities are improving pay and conditions for social care staff (42%), making it easier for health and social care services to work together (37%) and increasing the number of staff in social care (32%). The Health Foundation is concerned that while both parties acknowledge the importance of social care, neither has a detailed plan as yet for addressing the decades-long neglect of the care sector.
On public health, people across the political spectrum agree that the government has a great deal or fair amount of responsibility for reducing harms from alcohol (67%), gambling (70%) and smoking (80%). While nearly 6 in 10 (58%) think the government has been effective at reducing smoking related harm, just 25% think the government has been effective at reducing harm from alcohol and 21% on gambling, indicating that there is appetite for more action in these areas.
Tim Gardner, Assistant Director of Policy at the Health Foundation, said:
‘This survey shows a clear majority of people across party lines want more funding for the NHS, better support for staff and access to the health service, and for the government to take more action to address the issues that lead to preventable poor health. In short, voters want to see government doing more on health and social care.
‘Yet neither of the two main parties have yet committed to the future funding increases the NHS will need. Neither has a detailed plan for ending decades of neglect of the social care sector. And neither party has a comprehensive policy agenda for preventing people falling into poor health.
‘With the clock ticking to the next election, both the main parties risk being out of step with public opinion on health and social care.
NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said:”It’s reassuring for those working across the health and care system to know that the public understand the challenges services are facing and that increased investment will be critical to retain and recruit more staff, tackle the elective backlog and reducing waiting times for care.
“With public finances tight it’s understandable that the main parties have been reluctant to pledge additional funding for the NHS ahead of the election. But it’s critical that they see investment as just that – a down payment on the future health and prosperity of the nation. Analysis we published in October 2022 showed for every £1 invested in the NHS, £4 comes back to the economy in gross value added (GVA.)
“In a context with record numbers of people out of work due to long-term ill health, increasing life expectancy and rising numbers of people living with complex long-term conditions, it’s critical that the next government proportionally shift resource into health and care services closer to home to ensure we can keep people as well as possible in their local community.
“Political parties must be brave and set out their intention to make decisions thinking about the medium and long-term health needs of the population rather than thinking in terms of the electoral cycle. This polling highlights the public’s appetite for this.
“NHS leaders want to see the next government implement health policy that truly does think about the drivers of health and wellbeing, and not just think of health policy as a synonym of NHS policy.”