Today is the final day of the junior doctors’ walkout, which is the latest – but won’t be the last – strike action from NHS staff this year. While the commentary around these strikes have demonstrated less than the whole-hearted support of the nation, the one thing that we can say for sure is that people are concerned about the NHS. Despite being a subject so divisive, it’s plain to see that that both critics and supporters of the strikes want the same thing: measures to improve quality of care and reduce waiting times.
But how has public concern for the NHS changed in the past few years, and what could it mean for the charity sector?
The fall in concern during the pandemic
We saw a sharp decline in general concern for the quality of NHS care in 2020. In January of that year, 58% of the public called this one of their top concerns, but by the start of lockdown in April only 42% were saying so.
The reasons for this were numerous. Two thirds of the public were immediate to call the pandemic a top concern, and the specific amount of public focus on this single health issue pushed the wider issue of overall NHS quality into the background. On top of this, the pandemic saw many people reluctant to seek medical attention (and in some cases instructed not to) for smaller medical risks. This reduced the demand for wider NHS services and may have contributed to the perception that quality of care was steady. The pandemic also may have positively affected certain perceptions about the NHS in the media, framing them as effectively and efficiently responding to the crisis.
The return of public concern post-Covid
February of this year marked the first time that public concern for the NHS returned to pre-pandemic levels, with 58% of respondents considering it a top five concern. The media has had its hand in this: the news coverage around inefficiencies and difficulties, culminating in the attention being given to recent strikes and ever-growing waiting times has boosted the profile of the issue.
This suggests that there is a renewed appetite within the public to see the NHS brought up to better standards. But if we’re now experiencing more outcry for improvements to efficiency, staffing, and patient wellbeing, what can we expect for health charities?
The positive impacts
One benefit of increased attention on this issue will be the potential for more fundraising for health charities. While the pandemic saw NHS charities achieve unparalleled income figures in the 2020/21 year, rising concern for healthcare may lead to an increase in donations and funding for organisations supporting similar causes.
The awareness also makes for a good opportunity to rally the public behind campaigns for change, with this outcry serving as a point of connection between health charities and a wide section of the public. This may be the key to unlocking hard-to-reach demographics and getting more weight behind efforts to revamp and innovate within healthcare. Plus, if charities can collaborate with one another or the NHS in these efforts, they’re more likely to unify these supporters.
The negative impacts
Unfortunately, it’s likely that there will be downsides to this increase in attention on the NHS for the sector. The realities of the difficulty being suffered by the NHS are unmistakable, and rising concern about these may push more people to alternatives. We might therefore expect an increase in demand for charity services. This can put a strain on resources and could force charities to consider adapting their strategies to meet this rising demand.
Additionally, this demand goes both ways, and an increase in programme costs could see funding become more difficult to come by as competition for these resources increases. The additional pressure of having to demonstrate results that this often comes with can be a further burden, requiring charities to invest in monitoring and evaluation of their impact. This can especially affect smaller charities’ efforts to secure support.
Keeping an eye on the state of public concern is vital. Every political choice made about the NHS has far reaching consequences for the public, as well as the charity sector. By ensuring that we understand the public’s interests we can harness their passion for effective change, and prepare for the difficulties that rising or falling concern can bring about.
For more information about our research with the public, consider downloading a briefing pack below.