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The NHS Explained: How the Health System in England Really Works

Get a detailed understanding of the NHS: its inner workings, past and future challenges, and how the whole system fits together.

41,945 enrolled on this course

Illustration of cogs representing aspects of the NHS

The NHS Explained: How the Health System in England Really Works

41,945 enrolled on this course

  • 4 weeks

  • 2 hours per week

  • Accreditation available

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Open level

Find out more about how to join this course

The CPD Certification Service

This course has been certified by the CPD Certification Service as conforming to continuing professional development principles. Find out more.

Explore the past, present, and future of the NHS in England

The National Health Service (NHS) is a source of British national pride placed above the BBC, the British Olympic team, and the Royal Family. It affects the lives of millions of people.

But have you ever wondered how many people it takes to keep a nation healthy? Or how much money it costs to run the NHS? Or why hospital waiting times are always in the headlines?

This course will help you understand what keeps the fifth largest employer in the world running. You’ll explore the challenges facing the system, and how to ensure the NHS is fit for the future.

Learn about the history of the NHS and how it functions today

You’ll start the course by delving into the origin story of the national health service. You’ll investigate the health system in England pre-NHS, and see how the service has evolved and developed since then.

You’ll also examine the NHS’s structure, funding, and workforce, to get a fuller picture of how the system functions today.

Investigate current and future challenges facing the NHS

Once you’ve understood how the NHS delivers its services, you’ll dig deeper into the many challenges the system faces. You’ll discuss ways of measuring NHS performance, and what resources are needed to keep the nation healthy.

By the end of the four weeks, you’ll have a deep understanding of the workings of the NHS in England, and a sense of how the system could evolve in the coming years.


  • Week 1

    What is the NHS about?

    • What do you know about the NHS?

      What springs to mind when you think of the NHS? It means lots of different things to different people. And how much do you know about the NHS?

    • How has the NHS developed over time?

      How has the NHS changed over the past 70 years and what are the key milestones that have led to the health system we have in England now?

    • The building blocks of the NHS: how is the system structured?

      The NHS is made up of many different services, agencies and government bodies. How do they all fit together to deliver health care to the population and what do all these different organisations do?

  • Week 2

    How does the NHS work?

    • How does funding flow through the NHS?

      How does NHS funding flow from the Treasury to local services? How much does health care cost and how much do we spend on the NHS in England?

    • How are decisions made in the NHS?

      Once money has reached the NHS, who decides how it's spent? What factors have to be taken into consideration when planning services?

    • Who works in the NHS?

      How many people does it take to keep the NHS running and to keep the nation healthy? Who makes up the 1.4 million people that staff the NHS in England? And what challenges face the future of the workforce?

    • How do we make sure that the NHS is performing well?

      Funding, staffing and planning are all essential activities that keep the NHS running. But how do we know that the NHS is performing well?

  • Week 3

    How is the NHS doing?

    • Measuring how the NHS is performing

      How do we know how the NHS is doing? Measuring the performance of the system and services is one way of understanding how the NHS is doing.

    • Measuring the quality of care

      Another way we can understand how the NHS is doing is to examine the quality of care delivered and patient outcomes.

    • Measuring what patients think

      Patient satisfaction and experience provide another insight into how the NHS is performing.

  • Week 4

    The future of the NHS

    • The next ten years

      What are the factors that will influence change in the NHS over the next decade? Recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and the new Health and Social Care Act are two things that will affect many different aspects of the NHS.

    • Integration and collaboration

      The structure of the NHS is evolving to meet the challenges of the future. This activity will explore what the future structure of the NHS might look like.

    • Technology and data

      New technologies and the internet have revolutionised our everyday lives but the NHS has not kept pace with some of these changes. What is the potential for technology to transform the way in which health care is delivered?

    • The public and the NHS

      As society changes, the NHS needs to change in response in order to ensure that it is fit for the future. Does part of this change need to encompass a shift in our relationship with the NHS?

    • Finishing up

      You've finished the course and by now you should have a broad understanding of the NHS and how it works. What's next?

Who is this accredited by?

The CPD Certification Service
The CPD Certification Service:

The CPD Certification Service was established in 1996 and is the leading independent CPD accreditation institution operating across industry sectors to complement the CPD policies of professional and academic bodies.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Demonstrate a wide understanding of how the constituent parts of the NHS in England work together to deliver health and care services
  • Summarise the various ways in which the NHS measures how well it is performing
  • Discuss the future challenges facing the NHS and the way in which the system is adapting to meet these challenges
  • Explore the resources required needed to keep the nation healthy

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone with an interest in the NHS in England and how it works. This includes NHS and social care staff in England and beyond (working in both clinical and non-clinical roles), students considering a career in the NHS, patients, and the public.

Who developed the course?

The King's Fund

The King’s Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. Its vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all.

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$134/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 12 Jul 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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