The Health Systems in Transition (HiT) profiles are country-based reports that provide a detailed description of a health system and of policy initiatives in progress or under development. HiTs examine different approaches to the organization, financing and delivery of health services and the role of the main actors in health systems; describe the institutional framework, process, content and implementation of health and health care policies; and highlight challenges and areas that require more in-depth analysis. Various indicators show that the health of the population has improved over the last few decades. However, inequalities in health across socioeconomic groups have been increasing since the 1970s. The main diseases affecting the population are circulatory diseases, cancer, diseases of the respiratory system and diseases of the digestive system. Risk factors such as the steadily rising levels of alcohol consumption, the sharp increases in adult and child obesity and prevailing smoking levels are among the most pressing public health concerns, particularly as they reflect the growing health inequalities among different socioeconomic groups. Health services in England are largely free at the point of use. The NHS provides preventive medicine, primary care and hospital services to all those ordinarily resident. Over 12% of the population is covered by voluntary health insurance schemes, known in the United Kingdom as private medical insurance (PMI), which mainly provides access to acute elective care in the private sector. Responsibility for publicly funded health care rests with the Secretary of State for Health, supported by the Department of Health. The Department operates at a regional level through 10 strategic health authorities (SHAs), which are responsible for ensuring the quality and performance of local health services within their geographic area. Responsibility for commissioning health services at the local level lies with 151 primary care organizations, mainly primary care trusts (PCTs), each covering a geographically defined population. Health services are mainly financed from public sources, primarily general taxation and national insurance contributions (NICs). Some care is funded privately through PMI, some user charges, cost sharing and direct payments for health care delivered by NHS and private providers. While the reform programme that developed since 1997 proved to be massive in its scope, some basic features of the English NHS, such as its taxation-funding base, the predominantly public provision of services and division between purchasing (commissioning) and care delivery functions, remain unchanged. Nevertheless, in addition to the unprecedented level of financial resources allocated to the NHS since 2000, the most important reform measures included the introduction of the payment by results (PbR) hospital payment system; the expanded use of private sector provision; the introduction of more autonomous management of NHS hospitals through foundation trusts (FTs); the introduction of patient choice of hospital for elective care; new general practitioner (GP), consultant and dental services contracts; the establishment of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE); and the establishment of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to regulate providers and monitor quality of services. The English NHS faces future challenges as 2010 draws to a close, with significant restrictions on expenditure and a newly elected government that has announced its intention to introduce further widespread reform
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