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The NHS in England

About the National Health Service (NHS)

The NHS was launched in 1948.

It was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth – a principle that remains at its core. With the exception of some charges, such as prescriptions and optical and dental services, the NHS in England remains free at the point of use for anyone who is a UK resident. That is currently more than 64.1 million people in the UK and 53.9 million people in England alone.

The NHS in England deals with over 1 million patients every 36 hours. It covers everything from antenatal screening and routine screenings such as the NHS Health Check and treatments for long-term conditions, to transplants, emergency treatment and end-of-life care.

Responsibility for healthcare in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government respectively.

Learn more about the structure of the NHS in England.

In 2014, the Commonwealth Fund declared that in comparison with the healthcare systems of 10 other countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the US) the NHS was the most impressive overall. The NHS was rated as the best system in terms of efficiency, effective care, safe care, co-ordinated care, patient-centred care and cost-related problems. It was also ranked second for equity.


The NHS employs more than 1.6 million people, putting it in the top five of the world’s largest workforces together with the US Department of Defence, McDonalds, Walmart and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

The NHS in England is the biggest part of the system by far, catering to a population of 53.9 million and employing more than 1.3 million people. Of those, the clinically qualified staff include 40,236 general practitioners (GPs), 351,446 nurses, 18,576 ambulance staff, and 111,963 hospital and community health service (HCHS) medical and dental staff.

The NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland employs 159,748; 84,817 and 62,603 people respectively.


Funding for the NHS comes directly from taxation. Since the NHS transformation in 2013 the NHS payment system has become underpinned by legislation. The Health & Social Care Act 2012 moves responsibility for pricing from the Department of Health, to a shared responsibility for NHS England and Monitor. When the NHS was launched in 1948, it had a budget of £437 million (roughly £9 billion at today’s value). For 2015/16, it was around £115.4 billion. Visit NHS England’s website for more detailed information about how NHS England and Monitor are planning to manage the budget.  


The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Jon S Horridge said on 10 November 2015

If the NHS is short of money we should increase the tax that pays for it. What could be more simple? Problem is we have a democratically elected government!

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Shirlsmile said on 27 July 2015

It seems that a large part of the NHS budget is now needed for compensation claims. I suspect that in 1948 people were only too pleased to be offered free medical care and treatment and would not have considered suing the NHS if things went wrong.
Maybe it's time to think about stopping monetary compensation. If things go wrong (which they sometimes do) then the complaint must be investigated and every effort made to correct the problem. However, in exchange for free treatment perhaps patients should be made to sign a no monetary compensation agreement. In this way the NHS budget can all be directed to patient care and hopefully this will mean that the standard of care will improve and the number of errors reduce.
I certainly feel that it is unacceptable for NHS hospitals to try and offset their costs by allowing advertising by medico legal lawyers within the hospital!
Similarly, there should be restrictions on 'cold calling' on behalf of lawyers for medical injuries. I have heard of some instances of people attending A and E, receiving perfectly adequate care, and then being approached and asked if they have any complaint to make against the hospital.
I am interested to hear other people's views on the matter.

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Iconoclast said on 17 June 2015

I am not british but will be a student of university in Uk soon. I know that I should pay the NHS fee. However, I could not find the information about it. If you can tell me how can I treat it, contact me please. Thank you.

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Page last reviewed: 07/01/2015

Next review due: 07/01/2017

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