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Voters Back Private Care on Nhs – ICM Poll

The vast majority of British people are open to greater private sector involvement in the provision of NHS services.

An ICM poll published today shows that 83% of voters are not concerned who provides services as long as they are free to all at the point of need.

The finding demonstrates that, despite the rhetoric of union leaders, NHS professionals and many politicians, the public at large have no objection to more diversity among the suppliers of state healthcare.

Civitas, which commissioned the poll, calls on ministers today to forge ahead with radical reform of the NHS in the wake of the Mid-Staffordshire hospitals scandal and break down the virtual state monopoly on the provision of healthcare.

Despite the recent row over standards of care, our poll shows that public faith in the NHS remains resilient, with more than half of voters agreeing that Britain’s health service is “the envy of the world”.

However, that does not translate into support for the current system of largely state provision. Rather, the public appears mostly attached to the principle of universal care facilitated – but not necessarily provided by – the the government.

Presented with the statement, “It shouldn’t matter whether hospitals or surgeries are run by the government, not-for-profit organisations or the private sector, provided that everyone including the least well-off has access to care”, 83% agreed while only 14% disagreed. Of those, more than half – 56% – said they agreed strongly. Just 10% said they disagreed strongly.

In addition, only a minority of voters think the NHS provides better care than systems in France and Germany which have forms of universal social insurance with higher proportions of private provision.

Asked what they thought of the idea, “People living in European countries such as France and Germany don’t receive as good a level of healthcare as we do on the NHS,” only 36% agreed. More people – 41% – disagreed. Another 23% said they did not know. Still a small majority of the population think that the NHS is “the envy of the world”, however, by 56% to 38%.

David Green, Director of Civitas, said: “It is clear that most people still support the NHS, but that does not mean they are opposed to change.

“What this poll shows is that people generally support the idea of universal care at the point of need – not the virtual state monopoly of healthcare provision that we currently see.

“Despite the apparent fears of ministers, most people would be happy to see greater diversity of provision, which would help increase efficiency and drive up standards by enhancing competition.

“If the Mid-Staffs scandal is not to be simply the latest in a series of outrages, the government must wake up to the need for reform. The Francis report has shown that the current command-and-control regime does not guarantee a public-service ethos in the NHS.

“The best way to raise standards and look after patient interests is to promote pluralism so that rival providers are compelled raise their game. We all know as consumers that, unless we have alternatives, producer interests come to dominate.”


ICM interviewed 1,002 British adults between March 8 and 10. Full details of the poll can be found here.

An analysis of the findings by Civitas researcher Elliot Bidgood can be found below.


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