An understanding of the past helps us to prepare for the future. In this, the REAL Centre's first report, we look back at the care and treatment provided by the NHS in England over the past two decades – as measured by health care activity. Measures of activity – what the NHS does – form the basis of much NHS planning. Together with measures of quality, these are used as proxies for understanding the contribution the NHS makes to population health. Understanding the drivers of this activity is therefore crucial to service and resource planning.
In this report, we provide a framework for understanding the drivers of health care activity. We describe how supply and demand side factors interact, and how policy can influence the care the NHS provides. We look at the overall trends in activity and how specific services have changed. Where possible, we estimate the proportion of any change that can be explained by four demographic factors: population size, age, gender, and proximity to death. We then explore what drives the remaining change, unexplained by demography.