People in Wales are increasingly aware of the financial pressures the NHS is under and the reasons why health services need to change. And while concerns remain over the centralisation of specialist services, people still overwhelmingly prioritise the quality of hospital care over the time it takes to get there.
Those are just two of the findings of a survey of more than 1,000 Welsh adults, commissioned by the Welsh NHS Confederation and conducted by YouGov. The survey, published on the day of the Confederation’s Annual Conference and Exhibition, was carried out to see how views compare with a similar survey conducted just over a year ago.
The conference, and the survey report, come at the end of a year of intense debate about the future shape of health services across the country, particularly in north and west Wales, although engagement on the future of certain types of specialist services has also recently begun across south Wales.
The Confederation, which represents the seven Health Boards and three NHS Trusts in Wales, has been making the case for some time that changes to health services are necessary and unavoidable.
And while some of the changes proposed during the last year have been controversial, the survey results show that the Welsh public are still prepared to accept longer travelling times for care if they know the quality will be improved and that they will have better access to specialist staff.
With the NHS in Wales taking steps to reduce reliance on hospital care, the public agreed that lots of people who are in hospital do not need to be there and could be cared for at home instead (58%) and that more can be done to care for people at home and prevent them from having to go to hospital in the first place (72%).
The public also appear to recognise that changes need to be made as a result of pressure on budgets, increasing levels of ill health and a shortage of medical staff.
The survey found that:
- 65% of people named “lack of funding” as the biggest challenge facing the NHS in Wales, compared with 46% last year.
- 48% are aware that money is already very tight for the NHS and it needs to make changes to the way health services are organised to make best use of scarce financial resources.
- There is growing awareness of the challenges posed by caring for an elderly population (up to 53% from 43% last year), and also an unhealthy population (up to 41% from 34%).
- The Welsh public also appear to understand the need to make changes to improve standards of care. 22% named it as one of their top three reasons for why they think Health Boards in Wales are planning to change the way services are delivered. 32% of people were aware that the quality of NHS care varies from place to place and changes are needed to make all services of an equal standard, while 28% of people were aware that the standards of care provided on weekends is not as good as weekdays.
- The quality of care was given as the top answer for what people would prioritise when it comes to hospital care. 59% named it as one their three main considerations, while only 14% named travelling distance.
- Even though most people (59%) feel that their local hospital should be able to provide every type of health service for their local community, 79% of people said they would be prepared to travel further, for example by an extra hour, to see a specialist, while 45% said they would be prepared to travel further for higher quality care.
- Opinion is fairly evenly split on whether establishing specialist centres for certain types of services is a good idea, with 33% of people saying it would make services better, compared to 19% who thought it would make services worse. 24% people said it would make no difference.
Helen Birtwhistle, Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said the survey results showed that there appears to be a growing awareness of the difficult challenges the NHS is facing.
She said: “This survey is an important way for the NHS to listen to what people think about some of the changes the NHS is proposing to make.
“Last year’s survey showed that the public appeared to be pragmatic about change and were prepared to accept some quite radical changes if they improved the quality and safety of care. The findings this year seem to suggest that the public still feel the same.
“The majority of people say they have heard at least one of the reasons why changes need to be made and there is clearly a strong understanding that the NHS is trying to improve services in a very difficult financial environment.
“We are pleased that the people of Wales prioritise the quality of care above anything else, as this is the main factor driving change in the NHS in Wales. Health Boards and Trusts will be working hard to demonstrate this to the public in the coming months and build confidence that change is designed to improve patient care and make services fit for the future.”
Notes to Editors
• All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,107 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th November – 21st November 2012. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Welsh adults (aged 18+).
• The Welsh NHS Confederation is the independent voice of the NHS in Wales. It represents all the organisations making up the NHS in Wales. All seven Local Health Boards and three NHS Trusts are members.