70 years on

The UK National Health Service by the numbers

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

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.


The amount the UK spends on health care per person.


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.


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


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.


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


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


How much of the UK’s GDP was spent on health care in 2016, less than the United States, at 17.2%


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.

7 in 1,000

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.


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


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

<1 in 1,000

The number of people in the UK who are admitted to the hospital for diabetes in a given year.compared with an average of 102 across OECD countries.


($198bn) How much is now spent every year by the UK government on health care, twice as much as 20 years ago.


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


The number of doctors per 1,000 people in the UK, compared with an average of 3.6 per 1,000 among OECD countries.

7.9 nurses

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.

Source: OECD, Kings Fund, the Health Foundation, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Nuffield Trust