NHS spends about EU average as percentage of GDP on health

30 August 2017

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  • New data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show the UK spent 9.8% of its GDP on health in 2014.
  • This is compared to an average of 9.7% across the other EU-15 countries.
  • This follows a change in the way the OECD defines health spending, meaning more social and long-term care is included in the calculation.

The latest data from the OECD change the position of the UK relative to the other pre-2004 EU countries: from a low spender to a middling spender. This is purely a definitional change. The UK is spending no more on health than it was under the old definition and this does not stop hospitals from being in deficit, or reduce high vacancy rates across the NHS.

The UK still spends less than countries such as France and Sweden, but a similar amount to Spain and Portugal, and is not far behind countries such as Austria and Belgium. Measured by health spending per person, however, the UK is a little below average, so that money is being spread more thinly.

Compared to the old definition, what now constitutes spending on ‘health’ (at least for the purposes of international comparisons) includes much more of what in the UK has traditionally been thought of as ‘social care’, as well as spending on the NHS and preventative care. Notably, it excludes ‘capital spending’. This has meant a large accounting switch from social care spending to health care spending in the new OECD figures.

You can read more about this in the original BMJ paper or the accompanying blog.

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