70 years on: The UK National Health Service in numbers

By Meera Senthilingam, Sarah-Grace Mankarious and Gabrielle Smith. Illustrations by Anna-Kaisa Jormanainen.

Published July 3, 2018

The UK’s National Health Service has been a source of pride for the majority of the country’s population since its inception in 1948.

But as the system turns 70, cracks are showing and demands are growing.

Here’s a look at some key NHS numbers from OECD, the Kings Fund, the Health Foundation, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Nuffield Trust.


On July 5, the NHS was launched by then-Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan.


How much of the population is covered by health insurance, due to universal care.

£150 billion


How much is now spent every year by the UK government on health care, twice as much as 20 years ago.


How much of the UK’s gross domestic product was spent on health care in 2016, more than Ireland and Australia but significantly less than the United States, at 17.2%.

Source: OECD


The amount the UK spends on health care per person, lower than the average among countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Source: OECD


The number of doctors per 1,000 people in the UK, meaning there is one doctor for every 356 people, compared with an average of 3.6 per 1,000 among OECD countries.


The number of nurses per 1,000 people, lower than the average of nine among OECD countries, including the US, which has 11.3 per 1,000 people.


The number of hospital beds per 1,000 people, lower than the average of 4.5 across OECD countries.


The percentage of people in the UK who skipped medicine due to cost in 2016, much lower than the average of 7.3% across comparable countries.


The number of people per 100 in the population who skipped medical consultations due to the cost, significantly lower than 22.3 per 100 people in the United States.

Source: OECD

<1 in 1,000

The number of people in the UK who are admitted to the hospital for diabetes in a given year. More than 2 in 1,000 are admitted in Austria and Germany.

15.7 million

The number of people who received elective treatments in 2016-17, up 11% from 2012-13.

7 in 1000

How many babies died at birth or in the week after in the UK in 2016, compared with an average of 5.5 across OECD countries. However, this could be due to more accurate monitoring in the UK.


Forms of cancer survival rates* that are lower in the UK than the OECD average: colon, breast, rectal, pancreatic and lung cancer.

*based on 5-year cancer survival rates


people in the UK commit suicide as inpatients, or within one year of discharge from hospital, compared with five other OECD countries that have such data.

Source: OECD


The number of people, per 100,000, in the UK who died of avoidable means in 2015, compared with an average of 102 across OECD countries.

Although people in the UK generally praise their health service, they are worried about the NHS budget and how long they are having to wait for care, according to the Kings Fund.

Will the recent pledges of financing be enough to keep it going?