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Worst-off find it harder than well-off to access NHS care, survey finds

Poorer people find it much harder to access NHS care than the well-off and have a worse experience when they do get it, research by the health service’s consumer watchdog has found.

Those on the lowest incomes have much more difficulty getting a GP appointment, dental care or help with mental health problems, according to a survey by Healthwatch England.

They are also more likely to feel they are not listened to by a health professional and not involved in key decisions about their care compared with those who are financially comfortable.

The links between poverty and ill-health are well known, but the Healthwatch findings show that the worse-off also face the disadvantage what the watchdog called barriers to obtaining healthcare when they need it.

The findings have prompted fears that the NHS is too often a “two-tier service” with access closely related to wealth, and calls for it to do more to make services more accessible to everyone.

Healthwatch’s survey of 2,018 people aged 16 and over in England, which was a representative sample of the population, found that:

  • 42% of those who described their financial situation as “really struggling” said they had trouble getting to see a GP, double the 21% of those who were “very comfortable”.
  • 38% of the worst-off found it hard to get NHS dental care, compared with 20% of the better-off.
  • 28% of the very poor had difficulty accessing mental health treatment, whereas only 9% of the very comfortable did so.

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Source: The Guardian, 4 March 2024


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