Serious questions have to be asked about our NHS service. The UK has more doctors per person than the US and the same number as France

Graham Charles Lear
5 min readAug 24, 2023

So why is healthcare worse in the UK? I reveal the official numbers and ask serious questions of “Our NHS”

Also, let's look at the numbers of graduate nurses in the UK and in France.

The recent four-day-long strike by junior doctors in the UK has once again shone the spotlight on the medical professions and on “Our NHS”. This was their fifth strike this year.

I decided to look at two metrics that are often talked about. It is said that the UK has the lowest number of doctors per person among well-developed countries. Research reveals this is not the case. Our nearest neighbour, France, has the same number, and yet it seems to deliver far better healthcare to its citizens. The UK also has far more qualified nurses than France.

No. of practising doctors(*) per thousand people in the population

  • UK: 3.18
  • France: 3.18
  • USA: 2.67

[Sources: EU Commission and OECD, data for 2021.]

(*) Definition of Doctors

The OECD shows a higher number for France than does the EU Commission. This is because the OECD reports numbers that include doctors who no longer practise but are “working in the health sector as managers, educators, researchers, etc. (adding another 5–10% of doctors).” I have therefore used the EU Commission data for France, which represents the number of doctors who actually treat patients.

The damage the junior doctors have done to the nation’s health

According to the British Medical Association:

“There is no doubt that the cumulative impact of strikes increases with each action, as the NHS continues to tackle the biggest backlog in its history.”

- NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, 09 Aug 2023

The BMA goes on to say: ”To date, around 778,000 hospital appointments across the NHS have been disrupted due to strikes, with over 458,000 staff shifts interrupted. Previous action by junior doctors saw up to 20,000 staff off per day due to industrial action and the most recent industrial action by junior doctors in July saw 102,000 hospital appointments disrupted over five days.”

Graduate nurses

The nursing profession in the UK is now ‘graduate only’. This forces nurses embarking on their career to undergo three years at university, rather than learning on the job as used to be the case. It is widely felt among many in the medical profession that this has put off a great many potential applicants in the UK from choosing nursing as their profession. It also forces more senior nurses with years of experience to go to university, if they wish to rise up the chain.

Qualified nurses per thousand people in the population

  • UK: 4.30
  • France: 3.62
  • USA: 6.65

[Source: OECD data for 2021.]

Here is how the OECD defines ‘qualified nurses’

The definition of “nurse” varies from country to country. In order to present a comparable set of figures, I have used the OECD’s official data for nurses with a recognised qualification, including graduates.

“Nursing graduates refer to the number of students who have obtained a recognised qualification required to become a licensed or registered nurse. They include graduates from both higher level and lower level nursing programmes.”

A good nurse will sometimes spot symptoms and then speak to the patient’s doctor about her or his concerns. Aside from the care they give to sick patients, this can be a valuable tool in the early identification of serious conditions, allowing early treatment.

Finally, the testimony of someone who experienced the British and French medical systems

Below is the story of a British reader who fell ill in the UK, experienced the NHS, and subsequently went to France. It is only the experience of one person, but I believe it begs many questions of “Our NHS”.

“Some years ago I became ill and I went to see my GP in the UK many times as I got sicker but apart from some basic blood tests (for simple things like vitamin D!) they didn’t take it seriously. In the end, they told me “It must be a virus.” It was like I was an irritant but I was someone who had never bothered my GPs before in my life. That should have told them this was serious.

“It was. I had a slow-growing tumour and I only found this out when in France. I’m lucky enough to have a place there so I went to see if the climate would help. I registered with the local GP no problem. I saw him a few times (very rapidly each time) and then got sicker. He started making house calls at 24 hours’ notice. Then he referred me and I had an appointment with a specialist within three days.

“This specialist had a hunch and I had an MRI the next day. Imagine that in the UK? No, nor me. Sure enough, I had a tumour. I was given a priority status and since then I haven’t had to pay for my treatment. The tumour is now out and the aftercare from the nurses who’ve come to the house has been superb. If I had a bad patch they came here the same day.

“I thought my little story might be interesting if you ever compare Our NHS with other countries’ systems.”

Any implied criticism of ‘Our NHS’ has of course attracted huge opprobrium from those who swear blind allegiance to this bloated organisation. I will no doubt be on the receiving end again for publishing this report, even though I have used the official facts.

When it comes to the striking junior doctors, I would simply ask one question. Doesn’t the Hippocratic Oath require them to “Do no harm”? Judging from the BMA’s assessment, these strikes have clearly caused significant harm to patients.

On international comparisons, I found it interesting that the UK has the same number of patients per doctor as France, and far more qualified nurses. Given this, it must be asked if the management of the NHS is to blame. It’s high time we stopped talking about ‘Our NHS’ as if it were a religious institution that can’t be blasphemed against. The government urgently needs to bring in some top business heads to sort this out. Cutting out swathes of ‘management’ levels would allow far more money to go to the front end — where doctors and nurses treat patients in a timely and caring fashion.

Finally, I would argue that the training of new doctors and nurses has been simply lamentable for many years. This needs to be addressed with alacrity.

Sources: EU Commission | OECD | BMA



Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.