How many NHS employees are there?
Counting NHS staff isn't as simple as you might think. The NHS counts its staff in two main ways: 'headcount' and 'full time equivalent'.
Headcount is what it sounds like—the actual number of people working in the NHS. But this will be a mixture of part-time and full-time workers. So if there are 50 doctors and 100 nurses at work, it's not necessarily all that helpful to say there are twice as many nurses if all those nurses are working part-time while all the doctors work full-time.
That's what 'full-time equivalent' measures are for—they count the 'effective' number of staff based on how many hours they're actually working.
Honesty in public debate matters
You can help us take action – and get our regular free email
There are roughly 1.5 million people employed by the NHS across the UK.
By country, the NHS directly employs around:
- 1.2 million staff in England
- 162,000 staff in Scotland
- 89,000 staff in Wales
- 64,000 staff in Northern Ireland
But these numbers do not include everyone working in the health sector. They leave out some people, such as temporary staff, GPs, dentists, optometrists, and other staff in the independent sector or private hospitals.
We do not have very much information on how many healthcare staff work in the independent sector or in private hospitals. But NHS Digital do publish data for some staff who work in the health sector in England, but are not directly employed by the NHS. This data shows there are roughly:
- 159,000 temporary staff working in the NHS, often referred to as ‘bank’ or ‘agency’ staff.
- 174,000 staff working in General Practice. 42,000 of these were GP doctors.
- 24,000 dentists in private practice who provide NHS-funded treatment.
- 12,000 opticians authorised to carry out NHS-funded eye tests.
Full-time Equivalents (FTEs)
The figures above all refer to individual people. But as we mentioned earlier, some of them will be working part-time. Another way to count how many NHS employees there are is to consider how many full-time jobs could be filled. These are referred to as ‘full-time equivalents’ or FTEs.
If we look just at the full-time equivalent totals for the NHS, there are roughly:
- 1 million FTEs in England
- 139,000 FTEs in Scotland
- 76,000 FTEs in Wales
- 55,000 FTEs in Northern Ireland
Again, these numbers do not include everyone working in the health sector. They leave out some people, such as temporary staff, GPs, dentists, optometrists, and other staff in the independent sector or private hospitals.
The equivalent of roughly 126,000 full-time staff were working in General Practice (doctors’ surgeries) in England in September 2016, 2.3% more than in the previous year. GP doctors make up around 34,000 of these FTE staff.
People often talk about the number of managers in the NHS. Around 3% of the 1.2 million staff in the English NHS are managers (both for headcount and FTEs).
But there is no neat line between ‘managers’ and ‘non-managers’. Many doctors, nurses and other staff will have managerial roles that are not included in this figure.