As the health care debate continues in the U.S., both sides occasionally invoke the National Health Service (NHS) in Britain. The National Health Service was created in 1948, and meant as a program that allows those in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to have access to basic health care needs. Now more than 60 years old, the NHS is under review in an effort to attempt to improve the system.
Many Americans don’t realize that it is possible to go to private hospitals and buy private health insurance in Great Britain. However, even with this option, most people avail themselves of the services provided by the government (and funded by taxes). Here are 25 interesting — and little known facts — about the National Health Service in Britain:
- There is a wide range of choice available for treatment with the National Health Service: Many Americans don’t realize that most patients can choose between at least four different hospitals for non-emergency treatment, and they could soon have the choice among general practitioners.
- The first patient to be treated by the NHS was a 13-year-old: She was treated for a liver condition when admitted in 1948 to a hospital in Manchester.
- The NHS performed a hip replacement for the oldest person to receive one: A woman aged 101 received her hip replacement surgery in the West Midlands. More than 80,000 hip surgeries are performed by the National Health Service each year.
- The first test tube baby was born in a hospital run by the NHS: Louise Joy Brown was born in 1978, and is considered the world’s first successful “test tube” baby. This success started the movement toward in vitro fertilization, and now this procedure is performed for couples with fertility problems all over the world — including thousands of IVF treatments administered by the NHS.
- Britain’s first sextuplets were born in a National Health Service Hospital: The NHS can handle multiple births, as well as complex situation. The first sextuplets (six babies at once) born in Britain were delivered at Birmingham Maternity Hospital.
- You can volunteer to help in the NHS: There are more than 100 volunteer roles in the National Health Service. Check with the League of Friends and the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service for more information about some of these opportunities.
- Nurses make up nearly 30% of the NHS workforce: This represents the largest portion of the National Health Service workforce. Nurses are quite important to the NHS.
- The NHS is one of the largest employers in the world: It seems odd that such a small island would have one of the largest employers on earth, but it does. The NHS is up in company with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the Indian railway system and Wal-Mart.
- Nearly 1 in 23 people working in Wales and England are doing so for the NHS: Not only does that National Health Service employ a large number of people, a large percentage the population in England and Wales is employed by the NHS.
- Most of the NHS workforce is female: And by a large margin, too. 77% of those employed by the National Health Service are women.
- Every minute, the National Health Service receives 20 calls: These calls are made to NHS Direct, a service that offers immediate health information and advice over the phone. More than one million calls were logged over the Christmas holidays in 2007.
- NHS personnel have contact with close to 1.5 million patients and their families each day: The National Health Service touches millions of people each day, many of them patients who receive many different services both inside and outside their homes.
- Each week, 170,000 people get an eyesight test: This is the capacity of the Glastonbury music festival — that’s a huge party every week for those having their eyes checked.
- Around 16,000 babies are delivered at home each year by the NHS: You can have a home birth with help from the folks at the National Health Service.
- Caesarean section accounts for nearly 1/4 of births handled by the NHS: Close to 25% of the babies born in the National Health Service system are delivered via caesarean section.
- 1.4 million people receive home health help each week: Typically, the NHS helps people in their homes in large numbers each week. This includes hospice like care and other home health services.
- Most women in England are screened for breast cancer as directed: Because the NHS makes such tests readily available, 75% of women in England aged 53 to 64 are screened for breast cancer every one to three years.
- 150,000 pairs of feet are presented to chiropodists each week: The National Health Service provides access to a wide range of services, including those for feet. 150,000 people see a NHS chiropodist for help with their foot problems.
- Full-time general practitioners see close to 255 patients a week: In the U.K., general practitioners working full time see about 255 patients a week. With a five day work week, that would be 51 patients each day.
- 23 million people a month visit a general practitioner: Each month, 23 million people take advantage of access to their general practitioner nurse or surgery. A lot of people (more three times London’s population) are seeing a health care provider as needed.
- 50,000 emergency journeys are made by ambulances every week: Each week, ambulances responding to emergency calls make a total of more than 50,000 trips for the NHS. That’s a lot of EMT hours as well!
- 6.3 ambulance service calls are received each year: Every year, 6.3 million calls are put in to the NHS Ambulance Service. That works out to be 360 calls an hour, or six calls every minute.
- There are walk-in centers around the U.K.: Patients can be treated around more conveniently at any of the 90 walk-in centers around Britain. These are operated by the NHS, and can treat minor injuries and illnesses.
- 745 million prescription items are dispensed each year: Almost 3/4 of a billion prescription items are received by NHS patients each year. That’s a lot of pills and other items.
- Since the NHS, men and women in Great Britain have long life expectancies: Life expectancy in Britain has increased by 10 years since the inception of the National Health Service.
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