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Published September 5th 2017

Do People Still Care About The NHS? We Used Social Data To Find Out

Treating over 1 million people every 36 hours, the NHS is a service almost everyone will have an opinion on. Using social data, we analyze public perception

The NHS is a giant healthcare system. Despite being based and used only in the U.K, it is the 5th biggest employer in the world with 1.7 million employees.

Funded solely by British citizens, the NHS has a huge expenditure – last year reaching over £120.512 billion – largely due to the vast amount of people that the NHS deals with. That’s over one million every 36 hours.

Everyone in the U.K will have had an experience with the NHS at some point in their lives. As a consequence, most people have an opinion on how it should be run.

My grandmother is currently in hospital, and if I believed she was not getting the best care possible, I would be the first to complain about it.

Old man with sign saying hands off our NHS


Being a sensitive industry, dealing with matters of life and death, often makes it prone to complaints.

As public perception can dictate the future of a business, especially the NHS – a government operated service – it’s highly recommended to address and pay attention to these complaints.

The NHS is globally unique. In comparison with the healthcare systems of 10 other countries, in 2017 the NHS was found to be the most impressive overall by the Commonwealth fund.

This accolade, twinned with recent debates over its future, has made it something of a symbol of national pride for many.

It is no longer ‘the NHS’, but ‘our NHS’.

Yet, with this patriotism comes expectation, and any failures are amplified.

Negative news

At the moment, negative conversation about the NHS is dominating the news on topics such as debates on foreign staff, underpaid doctors, overpaid doctors, and hospital negligence.


Or more politically, Brexit, funds cut, or government failures.

Are the public losing the will to fight?

Nye Bevan Quote


As explained by its founder, Nye Bevan, the NHS relies on public perception to keep it going.  

With so many people questioning it, are we losing the will to fight for it?

Given the recent rumors that the NHS could be privatized, I wanted to look into this nation wide conversation to see if the positive mentions outweigh the negative.

Using Brandwatch Analytics, I was able to analyze and unpick the vast conversation surrounding the NHS, to determine if we still have the faith to fight for it.

Politics vs Workers

General public

Firstly, I wanted to examine the general topics surrounding the mentions online about the NHS.

Using topic clouds, I could see a summary of the conversations about the NHS over the past couple of years.

topic cloud on NHS

At first glance, there is a visible divide in conversation topics: the politics surrounding the NHS, and the staff working in it.

From this, I decided to investigate by comparing political conversation and mentions around staff.

To form topics that I could compare, I searched for terms related to key topics and added them to the two categories.

Firstly, which topics are mentioned more.



In terms of volume of mentions, there is a greater amount of conversation surrounding the politics of the NHS (63%) than about the staff and workers within the NHS (37%).

To gain more insight I looked within these two categories to investigate these subjects.

Within the political conversation, key topics are fairly evenly spread in the conversation.

Whereas, in the conversation around staff, mentions centre mainly around doctors.


Having looked at general public opinion, I was curious to see if this would differ for people who identified online as working within the NHS.

A doctor in purple scrubs on a tablet.

Using Audiences, I created a list of people who identify themselves as being a nurse, junior doctor or GP, and I then filtered for NHS mentions from these authors.


 Staff mentions about topics in the NHS

GP                                                                      Nurse                                                       Junior Doctor


Here the ratio of politics to workers mentions is visibly different depending on your role in the NHS.

GPs talk more about fellow staff, whereas nurses and junior doctors talk more about politics.


staff opinion on politics in NHS

Junior Doctor                                                        GP                                                              Nurse


Looking closer at the topics within the political conversation, it is apparent that junior doctors talk the most about Jeremy Hunt, and GPs talk the most about Jeremy Hunt and Conservatives.

Nurses mention Labour the most.


So we know now what the mentions are about, who they are said by, and how much they are mentioned. However, it doesn’t tell us if these mentions are positive or negative.

Using Brandwatch’s sentiment analysis, I analysed the tone surrounding these topics.

sentiment towards NHS

The data shows that for the topics related to workers, the positive mentions generally outweigh the negative.

However, in the case of politics the mentions are predominantly negative.

The public speak highly of NHS staff, but appear to not like any political component of the NHS.


It is not just the general public who cares about the NHS. The service also has some famous friends.



Least of all the national hero Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Hawkings in zero gravity

In recent weeks he addressed his concerns on the gravity of the situation in the NHS, with his quote “I’m worried about the NHS” dominating news headlines.

When he first expressed this worry about the NHS on the 18th of August, the response was very positive.

In fact, all of the mentions about Stephen Hawkings’s on the 18th were positive. This suggests that the public do support the NHS, and react very positively when someone speaks with care about it.

sentiment towards stephen hawkings

However, on the 19th of August sentiment suddenly changed. Jeremy Hunt responded on social media to Stephen Hawking.

The public’s reaction to Jeremy Hunt’s comments led to a spike in negative-categorised mentions on the topic.


So what can we take from this?

When it comes to the politics surrounding the NHS there is a lot of negativity – as indicated by the sentiment charts, and reaction to the comments of the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt.

However, from the data we can see that the British public do still love and care for the NHS; in particular what it stands for and the people within in, as exemplified by the support and positivity Stephen Hawking received when he spoke up for the NHS.  

Although politics may cloud and blur perception, the support for the NHS has not dwindled. I don’t think we’ve lost the faith to fight for it just yet.

So, I thank our NHS, and long may it continue.


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