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What's the NHS annual budget? How many doctors and nurses are there? What's the cost of an operation? 

Our press and public affairs team, library service and policy experts deal with hundreds of enquiries every year. Below are our answers to some key questions that have frequently or recently posed been to us. If you’ve got a question, please get in touch with us.

The most recent figures have been used where possible. Due to the time lag of some data reporting, some data is based on 2022/23.

How much is spent on health and care?

In 2022/23, the Department for Health and Social Care spent £182 billion. This money is used to fund a wide range of health and care services, including GP services, ambulance, mental health, community and hospital services that are commissioned by the NHS, as well as public health services that are commissioned by local authorities. It also funds some social care services, which are mainly commissioned by local authorities. £2.8 billion of the Department for Health and Social Care’s budget is spent on administration costs for the department and the health and care system, such as departmental running costs, regulatory costs and business services, eg the NHS payroll. In 2024/25, the total budget is set to increase to £192 billion, an increase of £1.1 billion on 2023/24 when adjusted for inflation.

Find out more in our nutshell on NHS budgets.

What percentage of GDP does the UK spend on health compared with other countries?

In 2022, the UK spent 11.3% of GDP on health, just above the average for comparable countries. This was an increase on pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels, when 9.9% of GDP was spent on health. More recent estimates are not available, but it is possible that this percentage has fallen since 2022 as the funding allocated to tackling the Covid-19 pandemic has been scaled back.

In 2022 the United Kingdom spent 11.3% of GDP on health, just above the average for comparable countries

How much of the NHS budget is spent on the workforce?

The NHS is one of the world’s largest employers, with around 1.34 million full-time equivalent staff in England, as of February 2024. Consequently, the wage bill for the NHS makes up a substantial proportion of its budget. In 2022/23, the total cost of employing the staff in the NHS was £71.1 billion – 45.6% of the NHS budget. These statistics don’t include salaries for GPs (who are not directly employed by the NHS) or employees in the Department of Health and Social Care and other national bodies, such as NHS England. GPs and GP practice staff are indirectly funded by the NHS through a complex system of contracts.

What’s the cost of going to A&E?

The cost of an individual going to A&E depends on the type of A&E – which can range from a major consultant-led department in a hospital to an urgent care centre or walk-in clinic – and the type of treatment the individual receives. For someone who attends an urgent care centre and receives the lowest level of investigation and treatment, the average cost in 2024/25 is £91. For an individual at a major A&E department who receives more complex investigation and treatment, the costs range on average from £137 to £445.

What’s the cost of an ambulance trip to A&E?

In 2022/23, the estimated average cost of a patient taken to A&E by ambulance was £417. Ambulance call outs that didn’t result in a trip to A&E cost an estimated average of £287.

What's the cost of an operation?

The cost of an operation depends on a range of factors, such as the complexity of the procedure and how long the patient stays in hospital. In the NHS in England, the NHS payment scheme outlines the average cost of procedures. These average costs are then adjusted to take account of local variation, such as higher staffing costs in London (this is known as the market forces factor).

For example, in 2024/25 an emergency appendix removal operation for a child without complications costs, on average, £3,603, and the average cost of an emergency coronary artery bypass graft without complications is £14,547. The cost of an elective hip fracture procedure varies from £2,205 to £7,165, depending on the complexity of the procedure and the condition of the patient.

What’s the cost of a GP appointment?

A recent study estimated that in 2022/23 the average 10-minute face-to-face GP consultation costs £56.

What’s the cost of a dentistry appointment?

Unlike most other NHS services, which are free at the point of use, most adults in England pay for NHS dentistry services. As of 2024, patients were paying between £26.80 and £319.10 for services, depending on the treatment needed.

For more detail, see our explainer on NHS dentistry.

What does the money buy?

When it comes to health and care funding, it can be hard to make sense of the numbers discussed and what they actually mean for patients, staff and the system. Below we outline what £1 billion in health and social care spending would buy in 2023.

£1 billion is enough to cover the annual budget for one of England's biggest hospitals, like University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust £1 billion is enough to pay the salaries of 9,100 consultants or 26,100 nurses for a year £1 billion is enough to run the NHS across England for 2.4 days £1 billion is enough to cover 15 days of adult social care spending by local councils

How many...?

How many doctors, nurses and managers are there in the NHS in England?

In February 2024, there were 140,700 doctors, 377,600 nursing staff (including midwives and health visitors) and 39,800 managers in the NHS out of a total workforce of 1.34 million (all figures are full-time equivalent, excluding general practice staff). Between 2011 and 2024, the number of doctors, nurses and managers rose (doctors increased by 45%, nurses by 26% and managers by 18%). As of March 2024, NHS vacancy statistics estimate that there are 100,700 vacancies in the NHS (including 8,800 medical professionals and 31,300 nursing staff). This includes vacancies in hospitals and in the community. However, these numbers are only estimates, as there is not yet a standardised method for reporting NHS vacancies.

Find out more in our nutshells on the NHS workforce and staff shortages.

Compared with 2011 the number of doctors, nurses and managers has risen

How many groups commission care?

Since July 2022, integrated care systems (ICSs) have been responsible for planning most primary, community and hospital care services in their local areas, including urgent and emergency care. Currently, 42 ICSs operate across England. As well as commissioning, ICSs also focus on integrating health and care services, improving population health and reducing health inequalities.

Find out more in our integrated care systems explainer.

How many NHS hospitals are there in England?

Working out the number of hospitals in England is challenging. All NHS hospitals are managed by acute, mental health, specialist or community trusts, and as of  mid 2024 there were 215 trusts, including 10 ambulance trusts. However, the number of NHS trusts does not correlate to the number of hospitals as many trusts run more than one hospital – for example, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust runs 10 acute and specialist hospitals.

How many available beds are there in the NHS? Is the number of beds decreasing or increasing?

As of March 2024, there were 141,903 consultant-led beds available in the NHS. The total number of beds in the NHS will be higher, as this doesn’t include critical care beds or those where the patient is under the care of a nurse rather than a consultant.

The graph below shows that the number of available consultant-led beds in England has halved over the past 30 years. Proportionally, the largest falls have been in beds for people with a learning disability, people with mental illness, and long-term beds for older people. Medical advances that mean patients don’t have to stay in hospital for as long and a shift in policy towards providing treatment and care outside hospital have contributed to the reduction in bed numbers.

The number of hospital beds in England has halved over the past 30 years

In 2020/21, there was a significant decline in the number of hospital beds due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Changes included new safety and infection control standards to separate Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients, and the converting of general beds into critical care beds. The number of beds has since returned to pre-pandemic levels. More recently there has been a move towards delivering more patient care in ‘virtual beds’ and as of October 2023 there were 10,000 virtual beds in operation.

Find out more about NHS bed numbers in our nutshell.

What has been the long-term trend in demand for health care? 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for health care had been rising across all services and sectors. During the pandemic, demand for services fell, but by 2023/24 demand had almost reached, or in some areas surpassed, pre-pandemic levels of demand.

For example, in emergency care, there were 2.6 million more attendances and 1.2 million more admissions at major (type 1) A&E departments in 2023/24 than there were in 2010/11. Demand for A&E services has returned to pre-pandemic levels, with a total of 16.5 million attendances and 4.7 million admissions in 2023/24.

Demand for type 1 A&E services has returned to pre-pandemic levels

Pre-pandemic, the number of referrals to elective outpatient services were increasing by an average of 3.2% a year (2008/09 to 2019/20). The total number of referrals for outpatient services fell during the pandemic but has since recovered, and in Q4 2023/24 the number of referrals hit a record high of 6.0 million.

Pre-pandemic, the number of patients referred for an outpatient appointment was increasing by 3.2% a year

Elective admissions were also increasing pre-pandemic – from 7.3 million in 2009/10 to 8.8 million in 2019/20, largely due to an increase in day-case admissions. Elective admissions fell during the pandemic to 5.6 million in 2020/21; however, in 2022/23 admissions were almost at pre-pandemic levels again at 8.6 million.

This growth in demand is also reflected in general practice. Routine reporting on the number of GP appointments has only been available since March 2018, and estimates that there were 353 million GP appointments available in 2023/24. While we can’t show equivalent historical trends as we have for A&E or elective care, a research study using a sample of GP data estimated that between 2010/11 and 2014/15 the total number of face-to-face and telephone consultations increased by 15.4%.

What was the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the NHS and has it recovered?

The Covid-19 pandemic completely changed the activity profile for the NHS. Hospital patients needed more intensive care – there were nearly 2,000 more critical care beds in acute trusts at the peak of demand in January 2021 compared with the end of 2020. Hospitals cancelled routine procedures to ensure Covid-19 patients could be treated; this meant that the backlog of patients waiting for treatment grew by 45% between March 2020 and March 2022. Infection prevention controls, such as separating Covid-19 positive patients from negative patients, also limited hospital activity levels.activity levels.

Many services had to change the way they operated. Pre-pandemic, GPs were conducting around 3 million telephone appointments a month, but during the pandemic it is estimated that the number peaked at 11 million (March 2021).

Activity in the NHS is now starting to return to pre-pandemic levels; however, the backlog of people waiting for care means some activities are likely to be affected for years. For example, the waiting list for routine elective care reached 7.8 million in September 2023 and as of April 2024 had only fallen slightly to 7.6 million. Furthermore, while pressure on emergency services from Covid-19 patients has eased, waiting times for ambulance and A&E services were longer in May 2024 than in any month during the peak of the pandemic in 2020/21.

What does the average day in the NHS look like?

There is no ‘average day’ for the NHS. Each day varies depending on the day of the week, the environment (eg, the season), social and cultural events (eg, bank holidays) and disaster events (eg, global pandemics). But if there were an average day for the NHS in England in 2023 it might look like this.

On an average day in the NHS…1

  • nearly 1.3 million people would attend a GP appointment2

  • more than 275,000 people would attend an outpatient appointment

  • nearly 35,000 people would call 999

  • more than 44,000 people would attend a major A&E department, and about 28% of these A&E patients would be admitted into hospital

  • around 650 patients would go into critical care.


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