To mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS, the BBC asked the Health Foundation, Institute for Fiscal Studies, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust to look at five central issues currently facing the NHS. These issues are the relative strengths and weaknesses of the national health service, its funding, the state of social care, the public’s expectations of the NHS, and the potential of technology to change things in the future.

This is the third of five briefings intended to inform and encourage a national conversation about the past, present, and future of the NHS. The briefings are supported and informed by opinion polls that looked into these five issues that are currently relevant to the NHS.

Key points

  • The NHS turns 70 under significant strain, with demand for services continuing to increase, growing waiting times for hospital treatment and widespread financial deficits among NHS provider organisations.
  • Although the NHS is experiencing the most severe funding slowdown in its history, cuts to other budgets mean that health spending now accounts for £1 in every £5 spent by the government.
  • Over the coming years, evidence shows the health budget would need to rise by 4 per cent a year to meet rising costs and deliver any improvements in services, however the government’s 5-year NHS settlement will see average increases of 3.4% just to the NHS England budget.
  • Providing the funding the NHS needs in future would mean substantial tax increases. The UK has a relatively low tax burden compared to other European countries and there is evidence that the public would support tax increases, as long as the money is spent on the NHS.
  • The NHS can no longer meet current standards of care with the money it has been given. Politicians should be honest about the choice we need to make between the sort of health service we want in future and the amount of tax we are willing to pay for it.