Many organisations are working to support and improve the NHS and social care system’s use of data, analytics and digital technology.
But what exactly does the public want to see?
Three years after the Covid-19 pandemic began, the NHS is under significant pressure and possibly facing its biggest challenges yet. Research by The Health Foundation shows deepening public concern about NHS services, with nearly two-thirds (63%) suggesting the general standard of care has worsened in the past 12 months and only a third (33%) of the public thinking the NHS is providing a good service nationally.
With just 10% of the UK believing ministers are tackling the NHS’s many problems in the right way (a record low), we wanted to initiate a debate about the future of the NHS – what people would like to see from the service and what kind of initiatives they would support.
We commissioned a survey of 1,000 UK adults (a nationally representative sample balanced on age, gender, social grade, education and region) to find out what British people would like the future of the healthcare industry to look like.
In our research on the public’s perception and what they see in the future of the NHS, we focused on three key areas:
- What recent changes to the NHS have benefitted the public?
- What would the public like to see the NHS implement to improve experience?
- Which initiatives would the public support to help the backlog of NHS waiting lists?
- With the NHS facing immense pressure, the discourse surrounding the healthcare system’s future is becoming more pronounced. As political parties anticipate the upcoming general election, gaining insight into public opinion can play a vital role in shaping the future of the NHS and understanding what people want from healthcare.
- This analysis delves into the public’s outlook and anticipations regarding NHS services, showcasing the discoveries from our research.
- Our research was conducted in April 2023, where we surveyed 1,000 people aged 16 and older in the UK via YouGov Surveys.
- The survey was carried out before Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced his Primary Care Recovery Plan, where he promised to get rid of the 8am appointments rush, provide more GP appointments, provide better access to medical records via the NHS app and allow people to get the prescription medication directly from their pharmacy.
- We found that people want a different, fresh approach to accessing NHS health services, including the option to book appointments online, more flexibility when booking appointments and the option to book double appointments for multiple concerns.
- Respondents in Wales have found no benefit from recent initiatives (68%), suggesting they are either not reaching enough people or don’t add benefit.
- With regards to NHS waiting lists, half of respondents (49%) are most likely to support an initiative that uses prioritisation systems to ensure that patients with the most urgent needs are seen first to help the NHS manage the backlog of patients waiting for care in hospitals.
- Nearly half of respondents (47%) are experiencing extremely long waiting times in A&E and see this as one of the most important factors that should be tackled to improve the NHS experience, whereas 46% of respondents are more concerned about the availability of same-day appointments.
Over the coming months, we will continue to undertake work to explore the relationship between the NHS and the use of data analytics to play our part in improving healthcare in the UK for the generations to come.
Have recent changes to the NHS benefited the UK?
Remarkably, half of respondents (50%) said that “none of the recent changes to the NHS has most benefited them”, with such changes including more over-the-phone appointments, data available to access through the NHS app, online pharmacies and booking appointments via online websites. Wales, in particular, found no benefit from recent initiatives (68%).
On the other hand, almost one in five (18%) Brits said booking via an online form rather than calling had benefited them, while 17% said that having more over-the-phone appointments has been beneficial to them.
Philip Purdy, Principal Consultant at Acumentice, said of the findings: “It’s interesting that the overwhelming response to the question of ‘what recent changes to the NHS have most benefited you?’ is none of the above. This suggests that the initiatives have not been widespread enough to capture people or didn’t benefit them.”
Stephen Hall, Acumentice’s Director of Consulting Services, agrees: “The responses to this first question tells us that patients want an updated approach to being able to access NHS health services, and possibly not having to attend every appointment face-to-face when a consultation over the phone will suffice in some instances.”
What would the UK like to see implemented to improve their NHS experience?
The biggest priority for the UK is A&E waiting times, with nearly half of respondents (47%) looking for shorter waiting times, followed by an increase in same-day appointment availability (46%) and more flexibility when booking future appointments over the phone (44%). The North East, in particular, would like to be able to book more in advance than just same-day appointments (68%).
Interestingly, more than one in four (27%) respondents would like to see the introduction of fines and consequences for cancelled or no-show appointments in a bid to improve the availability of bookings.
A further 16% of respondents wanted more virtual appointments and over-the-phone appointments, aligning with recent research suggesting that the majority of the UK are happy to get medical advice from a doctor via video link rather than in person.
Hall, who before joining Acumentice was the Executive Director for Performance and Planning across Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust, advised: “Clinical triage is something that should already be happening. But, if not managed appropriately, it can lead to long waiting times for non-urgent cases.”
Purdy believes the responses are weighted towards faster and increased access to services and easier and more convenient booking of existing services rather than changes to services.
What initiatives would the UK support to help the NHS?
We asked survey respondents which of the following initiatives would you support to help the NHS manage the backlog of patients waiting for care in hospital:
- Greater encouragement to seek treatment and care from primary care services such as general practitioners (GPs) and community pharmacies before being referred for hospital treatment.
- Wider use of allied health professionals (e.g. physiotherapists, dieticians, occupational therapists) ahead of being referred to the hospital.
- Use of prioritisation systems to ensure that patients with the most urgent needs are seen first.
- Greater use of digital services such as self-care apps and remote monitoring tools.
Over half of respondents (51%) said they would support the ‘use of prioritisation systems to ensure that patients with the most urgent needs are seen first.
This would need to include greater use of data capture and digital transformation to make clear where the highest priority patients are. There is a lot of data in the NHS, but it’s not always used effectively, which has a detrimental effect on efficiency, waiting lists and outcomes. If this information could be more widely shared among key stakeholders, lines of communication and efficiency between departments would improve, leading to the right care being provided when needed.
On the other hand, nearly half of the respondents (49%) said they would back an initiative that would make “wider use of allied health professionals”, opening the debate to expand the 18-week Referral to Treatment standard (RTT) to non-consultant-led services.
A further 49% of respondents would support ‘Greater encouragement to seek treatment and care from primary care services such as general practitioners (GPs) and community pharmacies before being referred for hospital treatment’, and more than one in four (27%) would like to see greater use of digital services such as self-care apps and remote monitoring tools.
This research indicates that the UK believe that the current approach to improving the NHS, so far, has not been successful in reaching all people using the service. It’s apparent that, although much of the research points to a continued need for investment in digital innovation and the use of data to provide the healthcare that the public wants to see in the future, it also requires robust infrastructure around these initiatives to ensure there is a robust communication and patient involvement strategy.
Our survey suggests that there is scope for a serious debate regarding access to data and analytics to improve pathways and waiting times, as well as solid digital transformation support to ensure these programmes deliver the widespread benefits that they should.
Find out more about our recent work here, or stay up to date with our latest news on our blog.