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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 – one of the NHS's core principles. With the exception of some charges, such as prescriptions, optical services and dental services, the NHS in England remains free at the point of use for all UK residents. This currently stands at more than 64.6 million people in the UK and 54.3 million people in England alone.

The NHS in England deals with over 1 million patients every 36 hours. It covers everything, including antenatal screening, routine screenings (such as the NHS Health Check), treatments for long-term conditions, 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 1.5 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 54.3 million and employing around 1.2 million people. Of those, the clinically qualified staff include 150,273 doctors, 40,584 general practitioners (GPs), 314,966 nurses and health visitors, 18,862 ambulance staff, and 111,127 hospital and community health service (HCHS) medical and dental staff.

The NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland employs 161,415; 84,000 and 66,000 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 NHS Improvement. When the NHS was launched in 1948, it had a budget of £437 million (roughly £15 billion at today’s value). For 2015/16, the overall NHS budget was around £116.4 billion. NHS England is managing £101.3 billion of this.  


Page last reviewed: 13/04/2016

Next review due: 13/04/2019