How does spending on health care in the UK compare with what other countries are spending?

This overview accompanies our briefing NHS finances: the challenge all political parties need to face.

Key points

Spending on health in the UK (public and private) accounted for 9.3% of GDP in 2012.
This is lower than the EU-15 average of 9.9%, but in line with the OECD average of 9.3%. Only five EU-15 countries spent a lower share of their GDP on health in 2012 (Greece, Italy, Finland, Ireland and Luxembourg), but the UK’s relative position has risen since 2000, when it spent less than all but one (Ireland) of the other 14 countries.

A high percentage of UK health spending is publicly funded compared to other countries.
Publicly funded spending accounts for 84.0% of UK health spending, as of 2012. This is the third highest level in the EU-15 (average: 76.5%) and the joint fifth highest in the OECD (average: 72.0%). In 2012, UK public spending on health was slightly higher than the EU-15 average of 7.6% of GDP.

Between 2008 and 2012 the average annual change in spending per person was lower for the UK than most EU-15 countries.
Between 2008 and 2012 the average annual change in UK health spending per person was marginally positive (0.03%). Eight EU-15 countries showed higher growth in per person spending, but the overall average change for the EU-15 remained negative, at -0.3%. This is largely as a result of some EU-15 countries having made sharp spending cuts (in particular Greece, Ireland and Portugal).

The rising prevalence of long-term conditions is a major driver of increased health care costs.
The average spend on LTCs for OECD countries rose from 0.7% of GDP in 1990 to 1.5% in 2012. Data are not easily comparable, but suggest that UK spending on LTCs is similar to the OECD average.

The UK spends less than other OECD countries on pharmaceuticals and out-of-pocket payments.
On average, UK patients also spend less time in hospital and generally use fewer resources (measured in terms of staff and beds). 


Further reading