With £20bn extra promised, and another NHS ten-year plan, what should the NHS focus on, according to the public?
The firefighting priority:
When asked what area they would prioritise if the government devoted more funding to health and care services, urgent and emergency care is top with 68%. A&E is central to our beliefs about what the NHS is there for, a bricks and mortar symbol of the peace of mind that the NHS provides - in stark contrast to Americanesque fears of being asked for your insurance details while lying on a trolley.
In the same poll about priorities for funding, mental health is second only to emergency care at 58%. Concern about mental health has doubled in the last year, and is now second only to cancer in Ipsos MORI's research for Public Health England.
The would-be priority:
Despite low awareness, the third priority for additional funding for health and care services is still community and social care services (40%). If the public understood social care and how their care will be funded when they get older (which research with the Health Foundation and King's Fund shows they do not), it would likely be even more of a priority. It is admittedly not technically part of the NHS ten-year plan but ignoring it will have consequences!
The day-to-day priority:
In qualitative research with the public, the issue that emerges over and over is frustration at making appointments with their GP. You know the sort of thing – having to call on the day, being unsure of whether or not you'll get an appointment, queuing at the door for the moment the practice opens. Three-quarters of the public visit their GP each year, so this issue affects a large proportion of the public, and the regular GP patient survey Ipsos MORI do shows the pressure on access to GPs.
The taxpayer's priority:
Yes, the public love the NHS, but they also often mention the level of waste and inefficiency in the system. Although the NHS has delivered greater efficiencies in recent years, half say the NHS often wastes money. Ipsos MORI's work with The King's Fund this year highlighted countless examples of where people thought the NHS can save money, from recycling crutches to reducing reliance on agency staff. They would like to see waste and inefficiency decrease – and that feeling is likely to intensify if they are reaching into their own pockets.
The sympathetic priority:
We have documented many times the level of trust that people have in health professionals. The public recognise that there are workforce shortages – at its basest level patients watch health professionals rush around delivering care as best they can in the circumstances (for the most part). Ipsos MORI's polling for the BBC shows that a shortage of health professionals is seen as the top factor putting pressure on the NHS to deliver the service it provides, and with Brexit looming, most support NHS visas to let in migrants to work in the NHS.
Whether the public's priorities are correct, of course, will be for professionals and politicians to decide – but they certainly want to see change.
Ben Page will be speaking at our annual conference and exhibition on 9-10 October in Manchester in a keynote session on what our priorities should be with the NHS ten-year plan. He will speak alongside Anita Charlesworth CBE from the Health Foundation and Jim Mackey, chief executive at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. To see the full programme and to book your place please visit the conference website.