The NHS is huge. It’s the world’s fifth-biggest employer and around 10% of government spending in the UK goes on it, so it’s easy to get bogged down by the numbers.
So let’s break it down. What does the NHS do in a single day?
Figures given to BBC Radio 5 Live show that Wednesday is the busiest day of the week for hospital admissions.
Last year there were 56,000 on the average Wednesday in England. That’s just admissions – it doesn’t include outpatient appointments or A&E visits if the patient wasn’t then admitted to hospital.
On a Wednesday 38% of those admissions are patients aged 65 or over. Eleven per cent of those 56,000 are children under the age of 15.
Hospitals are also seeing more patients than ever before. The latest figures show 603 more admissions on a Wednesday in England this year compared with last year. Over the past decade hospital admissions in England have gone up by 23%.
The former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, described the pressure on the NHS last winter as the “worst ever”, so there are concerns about how the system will cope this winter.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers – the organisation that represents NHS trusts – said: “People have been talking a lot in recent years about the looming demographic pressures, resulting in increased demand for care at some point in the near future.
“Trusts are telling us loud and clear that these pressures are being felt here and now. Trusts are working flat out to treat more people than ever before, and maintain standards of care.”
Many patients who are admitted to hospital come through Accident and Emergency, and for A&E alone, Monday is the busiest day, with 64,226 attendances on an average Monday in England.
Children under four are the most likely age group to go to A&E – there were 5,992 attendances on a Monday in England. More 20-to-34-year-olds (22%) attend A&E than over-65s (20%) on a Monday.
Conditions treated in hospital
Last year dementia overtook heart disease to become the UK’s biggest killer. There is a new case of dementia every three minutes in the UK.
With cancer it is every two minutes.
Bowel cancer is the second-biggest cancer killer in the UK (after lung cancer). NHS Digital statistics show that there are 930 hospital admissions on an average Wednesday in England for bowel cancer treatment.
There’s a stroke every five minutes in the UK. BBC Radio 5 Live’s figures show that in England on an average Wednesday there are 342 hospital admissions for strokes.
Four million people in the UK live with diabetes, which can cause circulation problems. Last year the NHS in England carried out 23 major and minor diabetes-related amputations each day. A major amputation is above the ankle, while a minor amputation can mean the loss of a toe or a foot.
Then there’s births. Official figures show in 2017 the NHS in England dealt with 1,772 live births.
Often keeping people out of hospital is the job of primary care. The Royal College of GPs says general practitioners in the UK see one million patients a day.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, recorded a diary of a day in her working life.
Across a 12-hour day she saw 32 patients face-to-face, spoke to 14 on the phone, looked at 80 blood test results, dealt with 38 email queries from hospitals or other doctors and dealt with the unexpected death of a patient.
Prof Stokes-Lampard said “I’ve have had patients laugh with me, cry with me, and one patient gave me a cake that his wife had baked for me, so all in all, a fairly normal day in general practice.”
Donation and research
NHS Blood and Transplant says that to keep up with demand it needs 6,000 blood donations every day in England. It’s not quite hitting that target – last year 4,235 people gave blood each day.
But because of organ donation, surgical teams were able to perform liver transplants at a rate of almost three a day last year.
There’s also research. The National Institute for Health Research says almost 2,000 people are recruited into clinical research studies in England each day. Five new clinical research studies open to recruitment daily.
Because health is devolved different nations collate figures in different ways, so it’s difficult to get a centralised picture across the UK. But all the statistics show more people going to hospitals.
In Northern Ireland, Wednesday is the busiest day for hospital admissions, with an average 2,234 a day – 200 more than the year before.
It’s more difficult to get admission statistics for Scotland and Wales, but the A&E figures show there were 3,811 attendances on an average day last year in Scotland and in Wales there were 2,750.