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Is The British “Stiff Upper Lip” Taking Its Toll on the Nation’s Health?


By David Saunders | UPDATED: 05:28, 4 February 2020

Britain’s “keep calm and carry on” culture, coupled with lengthy wait times for treatment and lack of access to healthcare, could be having a detrimental impact on the nation’s health, with mental wellbeing a key area of concern, new research by Simplyhealth reveals.

State of the nation

According to the report, the majority (59%) of Brits consider themselves to be very or fairly healthy, yet it seems many are in fact neglecting their everyday health needs.

For instance, an estimated 2.7 million UK adults1 suffer with minor health concerns, such as the cold, stomach complaints and headaches, every single day. However, when it comes to staying healthy, just 16% focus on visiting the doctor when they feel unwell, while the average Brit will wait for over two weeks to book an appointment with their doctor about a minor health concern.

This appears to be taking its toll, with one in 5 (21%)4 admitting their illnesses last longer as they can’t get to the doctors due to other commitments.

Other reasons for not seeking medical attention for minor illnesses or injuries include not being able to get an appointment, lack of access to a local GP and not wanting to waste the doctors’ time.

Furthermore, many people are failing to take proactive steps to maintain their everyday health, with less than half (46%) of those surveyed booking regular check-ups with the optician to monitor their eye health and just 51% making an appointment with the dentist for a general check-up.

Regional healthcare disparities

The findings also reveal significant regional disparities regarding the UK’s everyday health. Respondents in Plymouth, Bristol and Brighton consider themselves to be the healthiest5, while those in Cardiff consider themselves to be the unhealthiest6.

In addition, Birmingham has the highest incidence of illness, with 10% of the population suffering from minor health issues every single day.

Nottingham is identified as the most challenging city for GP access, followed closely by Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh, while Plymouth, Brighton, and Newcastle are thought to be easiest areas in the UK

Barriers to healthcare

When it comes to maintaining their overall health and wellbeing, waiting times and challenges with access to treatment are the primary barriers that Britons face.

For example, well over a third (39%) of Brits say it’s very hard or quite hard to get a GP appointment, while one in three (32%) refrain from seeking medical attention for minor illnesses or injuries as it takes too long to get an appointment.

In addition, 28% state their reluctance to be a burden on the NHS as a key factor preventing them from seeking medical attention for minor illnesses or injuries.

Mental health is a key concern

Despite greater awareness of mental health, it seems there remains a stigma associated with the issue, with the majority of Brits continuing to disregard their wellbeing in this area.

The survey highlights that less than a third (30%) of UK adults feel more comfortable discussing personal mental health issues now than they have done previously.

A further two fifths (40%) state that nothing would make them book an appointment with a counsellor, even though one in three respondents7 (33%) have either been personally diagnosed or a family member has been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

The findings also bring to light stark regional differences in attitudes towards mental wellbeing. For instance, those in the South East of England are almost twice as likely to focus on their mental health to stay healthy compared to those in Northern Ireland (31% vs 16%).

Furthermore, residents of Liverpool, Belfast and Edinburgh2 are less likely to focus on their mental wellbeing to stay healthy than other major cities in the UK.

A look to the future

However, when it comes to mental health, the survey suggests positive signs of progress for the future, with Millennials and Generation Z3 taking a more considered approach.

Almost a third (30%) of 16-24-year-olds focus on taking care of their mental health to stay healthy, while Millennials are almost twice as likely than those aged 55+ (31% vs 18%) take care of their mental wellbeing.

Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director at Simplyhealth, said:

“Along with highlighting a need for better access to healthcare in the UK, it is clear from our research that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the everyday steps people can take to protect their physical and mental wellbeing.

“Ultimately, prevention is better than cure, so it is important to make the time to focus on your health and be aware of anything that doesn’t seem quite right. I would encourage people to approach a healthcare professional when they have any concerns instead of putting off problems and finding that they get worse or develop into something else.”

GP and Simplyhealth Ambassador, Dr Dawn Harper, said:

“Eating more fruit and veg, taking regular exercise and sleeping well will all help our physical and mental wellbeing, but we also need to prioritise routine check-ups to ensure any potential problems are picked up before they become a bigger issue. 

“There is a lot of truth in the old adage “prevention is better than cure”. A health cash plan can offer easy access to GP appointments and telephone counselling as well as covering the cost of prescription medicines, new glasses and physiotherapy.” 

Simplyhealth is a cost-effective and convenient alternative to private health insurance. With different levels of cover to choose from, the new Simplyhealth cash plan and app provides instant access to GPs, counsellors and physiotherapists and enables customers to claim cashback on everyday healthcare treatments, from prescription medication, physiotherapy, podiatry and more.

To find out more, visit

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