London 27th January: The disruption to health and care services caused by the pandemic is profound and long-term, according to a survey of more than 1,000 UK patients carried out by the Patients Association, which is published today.

Chief Executive, Rachel Power, said: “The results of our survey show quite starkly how the pressures the NHS is under affect patients. And the effects are bad: compromised and delayed care, patients left without information about their care, and one in four patients feeling they are neither respected nor listened to by the professionals who are supposed to care for them.”

Conducted over a month just before Christmas 2021, the survey captured people’s experience of health and social care just before the omicron wave hit the UK. The report, Patient experience before the omicron wave: the storm before the storm, paints a bleak picture of what it means to be a patient in the UK.

The survey found:

  • Two out of three patients lack confidence that the health and care system will be able to deliver high quality care and treatment consistently after the pandemic.
  • More than half had not been kept informed about what was happening with their care.
  • One in four did not feel they had been treated with respect and another one in four reported not being listened to.
  • Half had not been able to access the services they needed.
  • Half had struggled to get GP appointments.

Most vulnerable worst affected

A significant finding was that respondents who reported that their health problems had the biggest impact on their daily lives also reported the worst experiences of healthcare services.

  • More than three quarters (77%) of this group felt they had not been kept up to date with what was happening to their care.
  • Fourth fifths didn’t feel their care had been well co-ordinated.
  • Nearly two thirds (65%) did not feel they had been treated as a partner in their care or treatment.

These proportions were all higher than those reported by people whose health did not affect their day to day life as much.

Access to care

We found different problems for different services when we asked about access to care. Getting an appointment with a GP was extremely difficult. Delays and cancellations of appointments affected hospital care more.

Across services as a whole, long waits, difficulty contacting services and difficulty getting an in-person appointment were the most commonly reported problems. Nearly one in five respondents reported struggling to get any help at all.


Power said: “We warned previously of the relationship between patients and the NHS being disrupted. These results show things have worsened, and we worry for the long-term consequences.

“We recognise recovery may be some years in the future. But it’s something to strive for without denying the extent of the task. There are no magic solutions, but we have some recommendations about how the NHS can help patients immediately and how patients can support the NHS’s post-pandemic recovery. A great part of this is partnering with patients, listening to them and understanding their needs.”

  1. The NHS must recognise the extent of patient difficulties, understand them, and make a concerted effort to find out patients’ concerns.
  2. The NHS must reconnect with patients as we come out of the pandemic and work in partnership with them to rebuild the relationship between the NHS and patients, and together, redesign services.
  3. Health leaders must remove barriers in the health system that stand in the way of health professionals and patients working in partnership. Leaders should champion a culture change that fosters patient partnership and shared decision making. 
  4. The NHS must put in place arrangements to communicate with patients about their wait, how to keep healthy and well, and where they can get support while they wait. All NHS organisations should be using the communications guidelines developed last May on how to keep patients up to date with what is happening with their care.
  5. If the NHS expects people to use NHS 111, then it must look into the variation in standards of service exposed by the survey and take steps to remedy the problems.
  6. A post-pandemic recovery plan is needed that covers all aspects of healthcare and includes community and social care. Such a plan must also include a long-term workforce strategy to ensure we have enough doctors and nurses to deliver the additional care needed to address the backlog of patients waiting for treatment.