To answer this question fully would require several extremely large volumes of written material including analysis and data as to the development of the health service in the UK. The point of the question, what is the NHS, is actually to provide a bit of background to the broader question of health insurance and health insurance costs, and who effectively pays for whatever type of health service is available where you live.

The importance of asking this question about the NHS, is that it is often held up as being the ideal of what a publicly funded health sector should be. People either refer to it in glowing terms as being the epitome of a nation's social conscience, or refer to it in more ideological ways often referring to it as a socialist type of intrusion into an individual's life.

The NHS simply stands for National Health Service, and refers to the public funded healthcare system in The United Kingdom. There is also a private healthcare system in the United Kingdom that runs parallel to it, although it is tiny in proportion to the main NHS.

The NHS has developed over a long period of time, and is publicly funded to the extent that it is free at point of use. There are a few costs that people pay for, and certain medical practices and procedures that are not covered under the NHS, such as chiropractic, but for the main the NHS covers everyone's health care needs, physical, mental, vision and dental, the costs being born through the general taxation system.

Many people often refer to the NHS, normally in the context of their own arguments as to whether a healthcare system should be fully funded through general taxation, or should be paid for privately, normally through the use of private health insurance plans, as in the United States.

Such arguments by their very nature are political, and as such can to be ideological as opposed to any objective assessment about what type of system works best. It is rather like asking someone who is in hospital or who has been in hospital whether they thought the treatment for their care was good. On the whole the individuals answer to that normally is determined by whether their health outcome was successful or not.

Many people do genuinely feel that an individual should be able to access healthcare for any type of condition on the basis of their need, rather than on the basis of their ability to pay. The idea of health insurance allowing this is a myth. Health insurance itself carries huge costs both to the country and for the individual concerned, and does not by its very nature guarantee good health outcomes.

Critics of any type of publicly funded healthcare system will point to the NHS and the problems that are in it and the dilemmas that it faces over certain types of treatment. What is more than fair to point out is that the main problem that faces the NHS is that facing any institution, which is that it becomes, and the people who work in it become institutionalised. This sense of being institutionalised effectively then leads onto a number of other problems that can be pointed to as symptomatic of the problems of a publicly funded healthcare system.

What is important when looking at the NHS is to understand the principle that lies behind it, that people should be able to access healthcare when needed, rather than based on their ability to pay. Reconciling the inevitable problems that come with that,happens to be the day-to-day politics of health and health care where ever the individual lives.

Author's Bio: 

Peter Main is freelance writer who writes extensively about health, healthcare and health insurance with a particular focus on current issues and debates, such as the state of healthcare reform and how it impacts on peoples lives.