A third of adults do not trust they can access an NHS GP, ambulance or hospital treatment in a “timely” manner, a damning study reveals.
Healthwatch England described the results as “concerning” and warned that health leaders must act to ensure these “negative perceptions” do not deter patients from seeking help.
The patient watchdog, which commissioned the survey of 2,507 people, found that confidence in the health service has fallen this year due to strikes.
Older people and those in financial difficulty are now among the least confident about receiving NHS care when they need it.
The findings come as waiting lists reach a record 7.6 million people, equivalent to around one in seven of the population.
The patient watchdog, which commissioned the survey of 2,507 people, found that confidence in the health service has fallen this year due to strikes. Out-of-hours GP services were rated the worst, with half of people (50 per cent) not confident they would be able to see a GP in a timely manner at night and at weekends. This was followed by non-urgent operations and procedures (46 per cent), mental health support (44 per cent), day GP service (42 per cent) and dental care (39 per cent). ).
Rob Fleay, 52, has been waiting for an appointment with a consultant for more than a year after his surgery to remove part of his intestine. The IT consultant from Derby said that during the waiting period he also struggled to communicate with his GP.
The survey asked people to rate their confidence that they could ensure timely access to 13 NHS services, including A&E, ambulances, non-urgent operations and procedures, GPs, pharmacists, mental health support and dentists.
An average of 32 percent of respondents said they were not confident or very confident.
Out-of-hours GP services were rated the worst, with half of people (50 per cent) not confident they would be able to see a GP in a timely manner at night and at weekends.
This was followed by non-urgent operations and procedures (46 per cent), mental health support (44 per cent), day GP service (42 per cent) and dental care (39 per cent). ).
Almost a third (31 per cent) did not believe they would be seen quickly in A&E, while 30 per cent said they did not trust an ambulance would arrive quickly, should the need arise.
However, Healthwatch England found that trust was typically higher among people who had used services in the last six months.
Overall, public confidence in access to timely care is lower now than at the beginning of the year, and nearly half of people (43 percent) say they feel less confident about accessing timely care than at the beginning. of 2023. .
This compares to 16 percent of people who said they were more confident now than at the beginning of the year.
Louise Ansari, chief executive of Healthwatch England, said: “With demand for care likely to increase this winter, the negative perception that the NHS is unable to provide timely care needs urgent attention to ensure people seek care when needed. need.”
‘If people do not feel safe asking for a referral for treatment or calling an ambulance, they put their health at risk.
‘Delaying medical care also adds more pressure to NHS services.
‘People seeking care should have greater confidence in NHS services, given the hard work of NHS staff and the local improvements achieved in many areas, supported by national recovery plans for primary care and urgent care and emergency.
‘As the busy winter period approaches for the NHS, we urge healthcare leaders to address the lack of confidence that many people, especially older people and those on lower incomes, have in accessing timely healthcare when they need it.
“Simple steps such as improving communication with patients and accurately recording details of the treatment plan will also help reassure people that the NHS is there for them.”
Healthwatch England said the NHS should employ more staff to help people anxiously awaiting care.
Patients should receive regular updates, health support and access to physiotherapy while on waiting lists, and doctors should ensure they receive adequate pain relief, he added.
England’s order book, for procedures such as hip and knee replacements, stood at 7.6 million in June. This means that approximately one in seven people nationwide are currently stuck in the system waiting for care. More than 380,000 patients have gone without treatment for a year, often in agony
A&E performance data for July shows emergency departments faced their second busiest July ever, with 2.1 million attendances. Three-quarters of emergency department attendees (74 percent) were seen within four hours. NHS standards state that 95 per cent must be admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour period.
The patient watchdog said the survey highlighted health inequalities, with several groups expressing less confidence in being able to access healthcare in a timely manner.
Only 24 per cent of people aged 65 and over felt they would be able to access care in a timely manner, while 26 per cent of people from poorer backgrounds felt confident they would have quick access to services.
Rob Fleay, 52, has been waiting for an appointment with a consultant for more than a year after his surgery to remove part of his intestine.
The IT consultant from Derby said that during the waiting period he also struggled to communicate with his GP.
“More than a year after my surgery, I have yet to see a gastronomic specialist to understand what this diagnosis means and what ongoing care is required,” he said.
‘The hospital has booked me several appointments with consultants and the hospital has canceled them at the last minute, often the day before.
‘In all cases they did not give me a new appointment, they simply told me to wait until I received a letter with a new appointment. Those multiple cancellations made me incredibly anxious.
‘I don’t have much confidence in the NHS. Even getting an appointment with my GP is a nightmare.
“They force you to call at 8 in the morning, but the wait time on the phone is usually about 20 minutes and they often tell you that all the spots for the day have already been sold out.”
A spokesperson for NHS England said: “As Healthwatch points out, patients can be confident they can access the care they need with post-pandemic recovery plans that deliver real improvements across a range of NHS services – emergency response times. category two ambulances are an hour faster.” Compared to December, longer waits for treatment have more than halved from their peak and GP surgeries are seeing 1.3 million more patients each month compared to last year.
‘Despite the current pressures and impact of the strike, it is reassuring to see that those who have recently accessed care are the most confident.
“The NHS continues to encourage people to seek the care they need with symptom screening campaigns, while staff are also ensuring those on waiting lists receive support, including pain relief and mental health advice.” .