Patients find it harder to get to see a doctor in the UK than in other leading western countries, a survey has found.
The study said that Britain lagged behind Canada, Germany, France and the US for access to high-quality healthcare. Difficulties getting a GP appointment and record NHS waiting lists mean public satisfaction with the health service is at a 25-year low.
Experts said increasing numbers of people were turning to their employers for health provision, fuelling a boom in private healthcare. The survey found about 67 per cent of UK employees expected their companies to “play a meaningful role in keeping them as healthy as possible”.
The report by Edelman, the US marketing consultancy company, said people were more likely to trust their employer for health advice than the government. Researchers questioned 10,000 patients in ten countries about their access to treatment and trust in healthcare systems and leaders.
The UK ranked worst out of western countries for access to high-quality healthcare — defined as care rated “very good” or above. In the list of ten countries, Britain came seventh, ahead of Japan, Mexico and South Korea.
About 60 per cent of Britons said they could not get “very good” care, worse than Canada, where the figure was 56 per cent, Germany at 55 per cent and France at 51 per cent.
Britain’s Covid-19 backlog, with 6.2 million patients on waiting lists, is worse than many comparable nations.
Germany went into the pandemic with three times as many hospital beds per person than the UK and 50 per cent more doctors per patient, meaning it was easier to continue providing access to non-Covid care. France has more doctors and nurses than Britain and twice as many hospital beds.
Dr Eleanor Read, managing director of health at Edelman UK, said the NHS structure made it harder to get health advice than other European nations, where pharmacies were first port of call. “The UK public loves the NHS and the individual doctors they deal with on a personal basis,” she said. “But lots of people are waiting a long time for treatment . . . some people have not seen their GP face to face for a long time.”
The report found that employers had a greater “opportunity and responsibility” to keep people healthy, with policies including health insurance that covers free GP appointments.
Read said: “In the US there’s much more emphasis on what employers need to offer than there has ever been in the UK. Pre-pandemic I don’t think many health insurance policies offered access to GP services. They tended to cover the physiotherapy costs or access to a consultant. [Access to GPs] may need to start being part of the package.”
The pandemic has led to a boom in the number of Britons paying for private medical treatment.
The government has admitted it will fail to fulfil an election pledge to recruit 6,000 more GPs by 2024. Shortages have forced more than 800 practices to shut down over the past eight years.
Doctors’ leaders have warned that the shortage of GPs is “the greatest workforce crisis in NHS history”.
The annual British Social Attitudes Survey found that more people were dissatisfied than satisfied with the NHS for the first time since 2002. The study published by The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust think tanks showed satisfaction with GP services was at its lowest since the survey began in 1983.