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 first 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

  • As it turns 70, the NHS is performing neither as well as its supporters sometimes claim, nor as poorly as its critics often allege compared to health systems in similar countries.
  • The NHS leads the world in terms of equity of access and ensuring people don’t suffer financial hardship when they are ill. It also performs well in managing long term conditions like diabetes and kidney disease and is relatively efficient compared to other health systems.
  • Outcomes are its Achilles heel – although it is closing the gap in a number of areas, it lags behind in saving lives when treating many of the leading causes of death including several types of cancer, heart attacks and stroke.
  • The NHS is comparatively poorly resourced – it is slightly below average in terms of funding, has markedly fewer doctors and nurses, and among the lowest number of hospital beds and CT and MRI scanners.
  • Although international comparisons of this type offer a partial picture at best and are beset by problems with data, it is clear the NHS is entering its eighth decade in uncertain health.