Hospital activity

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Part of The NHS in a nutshell

Hospital activity

Source: Hospital episode statistics for clinical specialties included in the NHS England quarterly activity return

The NHS is treating more patients than ever before, with hospitals experiencing increases in attendances at A&E departments, non-elective (emergency) admissions, elective admissions, and outpatient attendances*. For example, between 2003/4 and 2015/16, the total number of admissions to hospital (elective and non-elective) increased by an average of 3.6 per cent a year. In the past three years, the rate of increase in A&E attendances and first outpatient attendances has accelerated**.

A growing population is one factor behind this but hospital activity is increasing at a faster rate than population growth. The increasing number of older people with complex conditions is also a significant factor as are changes in clinical practice and the way that services are provided. For example, an increase in day cases rather than overnight admissions has been the main driver for the rise in elective admissions between 2009/10 and 2016/17.

For more detail on demand and activity in hospitals in England read our briefing.



*An elective admission is planned in advance with a patient attending hospital on a pre-arranged date for a procedure. These admissions can be either overnight admissions or day cases (where patients are admitted and discharged from hospital on the same day. Non-elective admissions are typically emergency admissions into hospital and can be either day cases or overnight admissions, but also include transfers within hospitals or maternity admissions.

**The figure does not include follow-up outpatient attendances, as the data for 2016/17 was not available at the time of writing. The number of follow-up outpatient attendances increased from 39 million in 2009/10 to 46 million in 2015/16, a 14.3 per cent increase.