The NHS provider sector

The NHS provides a comprehensive health service to the public based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay. In England, there are 217 NHS providers of urgent and planned care (also referred to as 'secondary care').


Who are the providers, and what services do they provide?

The NHS is divided into primary care, secondary care, and tertiary care. Primary care is often the first point of contact for people in need of healthcare, usually provided by professionals such as GPs, dentists and pharmacists.

The NHS in England provides care, free at the point of use, for almost 56.4 million people.

Secondary care, which is sometimes referred to as 'hospital and community care', can either be planned (elective) care such as a cataract operation, or urgent and emergency care such as treatment for a fracture.Tertiary care refers to highly specialised treatment such as neurosurgery, transplants and secure forensic mental health services.

As of April 2020 there are 217 NHS providers of secondary and tertiary care – 147 foundation trusts and 70 NHS trusts. Other non-NHS organisations such as charities and private healthcare companies also provide secondary and tertiary care services.

Of the 217 NHS providers there are:

  • 80 acute providers (providing largely hospital-based services)
  • 10 ambulance services
  • 15 community providers (providing services such as district nursing, health visiting)
  • 44 integrated providers (for example organisations that provide both acute and community care)
  • 22 mental health providers
  • 30 combined mental health and learning disability and community providers
  • 16 specialist providers (providing services such as specialist eyecare or cancer treatment)


What do they do?

Every year NHS providers:

  • Transport 5 million patients to A&E by ambulance (based on 2019/20 figure)
  • Manage 25 million A&E attendances
  • Manage more than 123 million outpatient appointments
  • Provide 68 million contacts in community services
  • Provide specialist mental health and learning disabilities services for over 2.7 million people
  • Deliver over 603,000 babies


Who makes it happen?

The NHS is one of the largest employers in the world. 

The 217 NHS providers employ over 1.1 million people (full time equivalents, FTE), which makes the NHS one of the world's largest workforces alongside Walmart and the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

NHS providers employ over 117,000 doctors and almost 290,000 nurses and health visitors (FTE).


What does it cost?

The total budget for the NHS in 2019/20 was £140.4bn.


Who represents them?

NHS Providers is the single voice for this public sector, recognised for our effective lobbying and influence within government, as a promoter of shared learning, and as a provider of support and development for our members. We represent 100% of the NHS provider sector.

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