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Tough choices ahead on healthcare for next government, AXA PPP healthcare poll predicts

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An AXA PPP healthcare survey* has revealed that a third of people believe that real cuts in NHS spending are on the way, irrespective of which political party comes to power in the next election. And worryingly, only 23% reckon the NHS is currently on top of hospital cleanliness, with 62% saying they are worried about catching an infection should they have to be admitted and 8% claiming they have picked up a bug during a hospital stay.

The poll has highlighted public concern about the government’s stewardship of the NHS, including questions about the cost effectiveness of its record spending and the impact of the ‘target culture’ that has been a prevalent feature of the regime.

Only 20% of respondents agree that the unprecedented levels of funding given to the NHS by the government has been money well spent, while 62% of respondents feel that government pressure has made NHS staff more concerned with hitting targets than with the quality of patient care. Despite a belief that the NHS is obsessed with targets, only 50% of respondents think that the NHS is doing OK or well at hitting its target of ensuring cancer patients see a cancer specialist within two weeks of seeing their GP, while 53% feel likewise about the target for patients who need an operation to get it within 18 weeks of seeing their GP.

Dudley Lusted from AXA PPP healthcare comments:

“Despite unprecedented levels of NHS spending, there’s a lot of anxiety about the service’s performance and governance and issues such as hospital cleanliness and safety (only 35% reckon NHS hospitals are safe places to be) and the ‘target culture’ are a real worry for patients.”

Asked who’s most capable of running the NHS, 27% plump for the Conservatives while 26% back Labour; on the other hand, 29% of respondents don’t think any of the UK parties are up to the task.

People are also worried about the impact of the economic downturn on the NHS – 64% agree that increased government spending on the likes of bank bail-outs and unemployment benefits will adversely affect the NHS.

Looking ahead to the state of healthcare after the next general election, 33% believe the NHS will experience real spending cuts. Very few expect the number of doctors (13%) or nurses (15%) working in NHS hospitals will increase and only 14% believe it will be easier to make a GP appointment or register with an NHS dentist.

People may also have to do more for themselves: 30% believe that more people will be topping up their NHS treatment with privately funded care and 22% reckon there will be an increase in the number of people going abroad for privately funded care.

Asked where the NHS could make savings, 70% favour reducing NHS managers’ pay and pensions; 35% say likewise for NHS consultants and, for GPs, 20%. Only 4% felt nurses’ pay and pensions should be reduced and only 8% say the same for junior hospital doctors.

People also favour cutting back spending on treatment of conditions with an element of personal choice or culpability, including cosmetic plastic surgery (59%), obesity related conditions (40%), smoking related conditions (39%), stop-smoking aids such as patches (36%), alternative remedies such as acupuncture and homeopathy (30%) and rehab for alcoholics or drug addicts (28%).

Services to be safeguarded include care for the elderly, with only 1% supporting cuts, and A&E treatment and pregnancy & childbirth care, with only 2% supporting cuts. Only 3% say spending on hearing aids should be trimmed and only 11% think the NHS spending on drugs and prescriptions should be reduced.

When it comes to the health worries of the nation, stress and depression have emerged as a big worry, with 28% of people indicating this is one of their top three health concerns. Young people in particular seem to be feeling particularly under pressure with 33% of 22 to 25 year olds saying this is their biggest health worry. Twenty-three per cent cited cancer as their biggest worry – increasing to 30% for people over the age of 56. Swine flu came third, with 20% saying this is one of their three top fears.

Lusted concluded:

“Unsurprisingly, the prevalent mood is downbeat and, given the current economic climate and eye watering debt Britain is facing, it is understandable that stress and depression are such a big concern.
“This survey should be very helpful to policy makers as it shows that the public has a strategic view of the NHS and is quite clear that we will have to tighten our belts. When that happens their key priority is to cut the cost of administration as 70% want to reduce managers’ pay and pensions.
“They are also very clear about where funding for treatment should continue and where cuts should be made. The lack of support for paying for health problems that may be self inflicted suggests that people want individuals to take more personal responsibility for their health and that people who bring medical problems upon themselves should do more to pay for their care.
“Perhaps what people want most is to be treated as individuals and for the NHS to put their personal care ahead of a tick in some bureaucrat’s box.”

* Survey carried out by OnePoll between 10 – 12 July 2009. 2000 respondents.