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National Health Service (NHS) UK - Statistics & Facts

The National Health Service (NHS) was founded in 1948 and has grown into the world’s largest publicly funded health service. The NHS is the name given to the public health service, which is devolved in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. While all UK residents benefit from public health insurance, an additional ten percent are privately insured. This is mostly due to the long waiting times and waiting lists of the NHS. For example, nearly 300 thousand patients have been waiting for more than a year for non-urgent (elective) treatment in England as of August 2021.

NHS services

The main principle of the NHS is that healthcare should be available to all who require it. The NHS provides a range of comprehensive free healthcare services for citizens who are ordinarily residents in the UK. These include in- and outpatient hospital care, preventative services, physician services, dental and eye care, mental health, some long-term and palliative care, and rehabilitation among others. Most of the services are free at the point of use and only limited cost-sharing applies, for example, for prescription drugs, dental care, and some long-term care.


With an estimated 1.5 million employees, the NHS employs the UK’s largest workforce and is one of the top ten biggest employers in the world. Around three-quarters of the staff are enthusiastic at work and are happy with the standard of care provided. Despite this, there are still more leavers than joiners at the NHS and staff shortage is a chronic problem. As of June 2021, there were around 94 thousand vacancies in the NHS workforce which translates to nearly 10 percent of the total workforce. The situation is especially critical in nursing and particularly among mental health nurses. While the full impact of the UK’s departure from the EU on the NHS has yet to be assessed, it has probably exacerbated staffing shortage. Already in October 2019, twelve percent of healthcare professionals knew a colleague who had left their job due to Brexit.

Issues: wait times

Long waiting times in the NHS England accident and emergency (A&E) department is an ongoing issue. The operational standards state that 95 percent of attendees to A&E should be seen within four hours, although the last time this target was met was in 2013. Together with chronic staff shortages and increasing NHS backlogs – long lists of patients waiting for treatment – it all paints a bleak picture for the NHS. While it is understandable that patients are dissatisfied and frustrated, it is important not to misplace anger on the hard-working staff, who have always experienced horrendously high levels of abuse and harassment from patients and the public. Instead focus should be given on restoring and improving the NHS such as the recently announced tax increase to fund the NHS and social care starting April 2022.


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