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Different Types Of NHS Hospitals (Simply Explained)

Different Types Of NHS Hospitals (Simply Explained)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Each different type of NHS hospital serves a unique purpose in the UK’s larger healthcare ecosystem.

The National Health Service (NHS) provides a huge array of healthcare services, with hospitals being an integral part of it.

To better understand their functions, in this article I’m going to explore the different types of NHS hospitals and their contribution to the overall healthcare system.

Teaching Hospitals

Teaching hospitals are a vital component of the NHS in the United Kingdom.

These institutions are usually large and based in or near the centre of a region, typically in a major city.

They often have 600-1200 beds and are affiliated with universities, providing medical students with the necessary training to become doctors.

One of the key factors that differentiate teaching hospitals from other types of hospitals, such as district general hospitals, is their strong focus on education and research.

Teaching hospitals often serve as research centres, contributing to advancements in medical knowledge and treatment.

A view down a corridor inside an NHS hospital
A typical hospital in the NHS

An affiliation with a medical school enables these hospitals to maintain a close relationship between clinical practice and academic progress.

They frequently host large academic departments and are recognised for their excellence in various fields of medicine.

London, in particular, is home to a concentration of high-quality teaching hospitals, such as Barts, Imperial College Hospital, King’s College Hospital, and St George’s.

Often equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, they are capable of delivering cutting-edge care to patients while simultaneously training the next generation of medical professionals in the capital.

District General Hospitals

District general hospitals (DGHs) provide a wide range of services to cater to the healthcare needs of a local population.

Typically, district general hospitals are smaller than regional teaching hospitals and are located within smaller towns or cities, making them more accessible to a broader community.

Types Of NHS Hospital Pixel Infographic

The primary function of district hospitals is to offer secondary care services.

These services include general medical and surgical care, accident and emergency, and outpatient clinics, amongst a host of other hospital departments.

They serve as a vital link between primary care provided by general practitioners (GPs) and the highly specialised tertiary care in teaching hospitals.

DGHs work closely with other healthcare organisations, such as community health services and social care providers, to ensure coordinated and integrated care for their patients.

While district hospitals may not have the extensive facilities or academic affiliations possessed by teaching hospitals, they still deliver crucial healthcare services catering to the majority of medical needs.

Specialist Hospitals

Specialist hospitals provide dedicated care and treatment to patients with specific, complex, or rare health conditions.

These hospitals often work closely with regional teaching hospitals and other facilities to ensure seamless care for patients.

One of the key features of specialist hospitals is their focus on multidisciplinary teams.

These teams comprise experts from various fields, such as nurses, doctors, therapists, and surgeons, who collaborate to offer comprehensive care to patients with specific health challenges.

This approach ensures each patient receives the best possible care tailored to their individual needs.

Some specialised hospitals focus on certain branches of medicine or surgery, such as oncology (cancer care), cardiology (heart health), and neurology (disorders of the nervous system).

Patients with rare and complex conditions can access cutting-edge treatments and expertise that may not be available in general hospitals.

In addition to focusing on specific medical areas, specialist hospitals may offer services for particular patient groups, such as children or elderly patients.

For example, children’s hospitals cater specifically to the unique needs of young patients, while geriatric hospitals focus on the health and wellbeing of older adults.

Access to specialist hospitals is typically through referrals from general practitioners or other healthcare professionals.

Psychiatric Hospitals

Psychiatric hospitals are a type of NHS hospital that focuses on treating patients dealing with mental health issues.

These institutions are staffed by trained professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and support staff who work together to provide comprehensive mental health care.

Patients may be referred to a psychiatric hospital for a variety of mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, eating disorders, sleep disorders, and addictions.

These hospitals aim to provide a safe and supportive environment in which patients can be assessed, diagnosed, and treated.

In the NHS, psychiatric hospitals work closely with other mental health services to ensure the best possible care for patients.

A GP talking to one of their patients
Admission to a psychiatric hospital can either be voluntary or non-voluntary

Some individuals may be admitted voluntarily, or, in certain cases, individuals may be admitted involuntarily if they pose a risk to themselves or others.

Treatment methods at psychiatric hospitals can include medication, therapy, and counselling, as well as other support services.

The goal is to help patients manage their symptoms and improve their overall wellbeing.

During the course of treatment, patients may work with a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals to develop and follow a personalised care plan.

Private Hospitals

Private hospitals operate alongside the National Health Service hospitals, offering healthcare services to individuals who opt for privately funded treatment.

Private hospitals require patients to pay for the treatments and services they receive, either through individual payments, health insurance, or employer-sponsored healthcare plans.

These facilities are independent of the NHS but are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), ensuring that their standards of care and operations are inspected and rated accordingly.

This allows patients to review the ratings and make informed decisions when selecting a private healthcare provider.

Patients often choose private hospitals for various reasons, such as shorter waiting times for procedures, more privacy, and a higher level of personal care compared to the NHS facilities.

Private hospitals typically offer individual rooms for patients, providing them with increased comfort during their hospital stay.

The choice between opting for private or NHS healthcare ultimately depends on individual preferences, financial circumstances, and specific medical requirements.

Community Hospitals

Community hospitals serve local populations with a range of healthcare facilities and resources, including in-patient, out-patient, diagnostic, primary care, and outreach services.

These hospitals often have fewer than 100 beds and cater to populations of up to 100,000 people.

These types of hospitals play a vital role in shifting healthcare services out of larger hospitals and into the community.

This approach is in line with the government’s long-term plan for the NHS, which aims to meet the changing health needs of the United Kingdom over the coming decade.

By offering various care services to local populations, community hospitals can ease the pressure on larger hospitals and reduce waiting times for patients.

In terms of facilities, community hospitals often provide:

  • Medical and surgical wards
  • Operating theatres for minor procedures
  • Diagnostics, such as X-rays and blood tests
  • Day-care services, such as physiotherapy
  • Mental health services
  • Outpatient clinics, which can include services such as antenatal care

Community hospitals are particularly valuable in providing extended care and support for patients with long-term conditions, elderly patients, or people requiring rehabilitation following surgery or illness.

Future Outlook And Trends In NHS Hospitals

NHS hospitals are expected to face increasing challenges in the coming years.

As patient admission rates continue to rise, the need for additional resources is becoming more pressing.

This pressure highlights the importance of finding innovative solutions to address growing patient numbers efficiently.

One significant area of focus for NHS hospitals in the future is investing in the workforce, both by increasing personnel and introducing new methods of working.

Another crucial aspect of managing the growing demand for NHS services is the improvement of preventive care.

To date, attempts to reduce hospital admissions through this approach have not been entirely successful on a large scale, but future efforts will likely centre on refining these preventive measures as a means of decreasing the dependence on inpatient services.

Final Thoughts

Every hospital in the NHS collaborates and complements each other to create a robust and efficient healthcare network, ensuring patients receive the appropriate care and treatment for their needs.

Each type of hospital brings with it its own strengths and weaknesses, both for patients and the organisation as a whole.

By working together, these different types of hospitals maintain the high-quality care and services our population relies on, making the NHS the invaluable public health organisation that it is.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.