Activity in the NHS

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Part of The NHS in a nutshell

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  • Posted:Friday 23 October 2020

Over the past 10 years, it has often been stated that the NHS treats more than a million people every 36 hours, but is that still true? The Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption to services and a reduction in many types of activity. Here, we analyse NHS activity pre-Covid-19 and explore some of the underlying trends that lie behind these headline statistics.

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It is very hard to definitively define NHS activity so here, we have largely focussed on services commissioned and provided by the NHS. There is limited information on activity that is paid for by the NHS but provided by non-NHS providers, and work that is done by NHS hospitals for a fee, e.g,. private patient units. Data availability in some sectors, such as primary care and community health care is getting better but is not as consistent as the hospital sector.

These figures are for NHS services that are provided free at the point of use. If we included services where patients may be asked to contribute to the cost of their care, for example dentistry, prescriptions or opticians’ appointments, the number of interactions would be significantly higher. Additionally, some NHS activity cannot currently be measured, for example contacts with the 111 online service.

The work to support the estimate that the NHS sees a million people every 36 hours was undertaken more than 10 years ago. Using the methodology we have described, and with the caveats we have outlined, we estimate that prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, NHS activity had increased to an average of 1.5 million interactions with patients every day.