What is the NHS? How does it work?

What is the NHS?
What is the NHS?

So, what is the NHS?

As a prospective applicant to a UK medical school, you are not only choosing what and where you would like to study for the next 5 or 6 years, but you are also signalling your commitment to becoming a doctor. Currently, the only employer when you start work as a doctor is the NHS. But what is the NHS?

Well, let me answer you question! This blog outlines what you need to know in order to answer that ‘what is the NHS?’ question. Plus, it helps to know a bit about the organisation that you could be dedicating the rest of your working life to!

Basic facts


Money that the government receives through general taxation is divvied up between different ministerial departments, such as the department for Education. A large chunk of this money goes to the Department of Health. The aim of the Department of Health is to provide strategic leadership for public health, the NHS and social care in England.

What is the NHS England?

NHS England is by far the biggest section of the UK NHS.

The roles of the NHS in England include:

What are CCGs?

CCGs are clinically led statutory NHS bodies responsible for the planning and commissioning of healthcare services for their local area.

Commissioning is the process of procuring or obtaining health services through a specialised process of assessing the health needs of your local population, planning these services and acquiring them from a provider of those services. Those services are then monitored to ensure they meet the health needs of the population.

CCG members include GPs and other clinicians such as nurses and consultants. They are responsible for about 60% of the NHS budget and commission most secondary care services such as:

CCGs can commission any service provider that meets NHS standards and costs. These can be NHS hospitals, social enterprises, charities or private sector providers. However, CCGs must take into consideration both National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines and the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) information about the quality of care provided.

‘Arms length bodies’

There are also a number of independent ‘arms length bodies’ of which you should be aware including NICE, SIGN in Scotland, Public Health England and the Care Quality Commission which monitors and ensures health service providers are up to scratch.

The structure of the NHS is incredibly complex and we have only touched upon the basics.

For more information visit:

The King’s Fund

NHS England

NHS Scotland

NHS Wales

NHS Northern Ireland


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