Ten things you didn't know about the public sector

Back to Lifestyle
Public Service Day: midwife and mum in hospital with new born baby

We're celebrating Public Service Day on 23 June and it's time to say thanks to the dedicated men and women of the public sector and civil service

Millions of people work in public service, from the school crossing patrol to the emergency services, armed forces and teachers, government offices and NHS; discover the vital work they do across the UK.

The UK’s public sector workers

More than five million people in the UK are employed in the public sector. Nearly 500,000 are teachers and headteachers, nearly 700,000 are nurses and midwives, and more than 40,000 are GPs.

All of the employers in the top 10 largest in the UK are public sector: NHS England, NHS Scotland, the British Army, the Department of Work and Pensions, HM Revenue & Customs, NHS Wales, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, the Metropolitan Police Service and the Royal Air Force.

Public Service Day: teacher in classroom

Meet more of our public service workers:

What's it like to be a police officer?

The working life of an NHS Emergency Care Assistant

Meet the winner of the Global Teacher Prize

The NHS now employs one in every 20 working people in the UK

In December 2018 the NHS employed more than 1.6 million people in the UK. That’s more than 30% of all people employed in the public sector and over 5% of all people in paid work in the UK. It’s also the fifth biggest employer in the world, behind the US Department of Defense, the Chinese Army, Walmart (which includes Asda in the UK), and McDonald’s.

Public Service Day: NHS A&E emergency ambulance

The heroes of the RAF

The 2018 Pride of Britain Awards paid tribute to the men and women of the RAF who’ve been defending Britain for 100 years. Heroes who received the award included Paul Farnes, 100, the last surviving pilot from the Battle of Britain, and Johnny Johnson, 96, the last of the Dambusters, along with the 30,000 servicemen and women in the RAF today.

Public Service Day: RAF veteran George 'Johnny' Johnson, Dambuster pilot

Britain's last surviving 'Dambuster', Squadron Leader George 'Johnny' Johnson, celebrating 2018's centenary of the RAF.

The public sector has award-winning employees

Award-winning staff in the Royal College of Nursing 2018 Awards include Mark Field, a senior nurse from north Wales who won the Special Recognition Award for over 20 years setting up and running a boxing club for people who suffer from mental health conditions.  Alison Cairns and her team at the Altnagelvin Renal Home Therapies Team won the Patient’s Choice Award, nominated by Carmel McMonagle who had a kidney transplant from her husband.

The 2018 Prison Officer of the Year Award was granted to Keith Potter, a Youth Custody Prison Officer from HMYOI Feltham. Keith was nominated for his work on rehabilitation of young people, including reintroducing the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, extending a scheme with the London Fire Brigade for prisoners on release on temporary licence, and working with local football clubs in the community.

The 2018 Probation Champion of the Year was Anna Whateley, a victim liaison officer from the Bristol team. She was nominated by her manager for her compassion and professionalism, mentoring new staff and developing ways to support victims in the South West and South Central division.

Winners of the 2018 Civil Service Awards include Catherine Ramsay who won the Volunteering Award; she works in the Home Office staff and set up the Autism Buddy Support Group. Fergus McBean from the Department for International Development won the Use of Evidence Award for his work designed to prevent outbreaks of cholera. He created an early-warning system that combines data on weekly rainfall forecasts, water storage, temperature and topography to produce a cholera risk assessment.

The NHS over the years

The NHS was established in July 1948, bringing together the UK’s doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and opticians. Until this point our hospitals had been run by local authorities or charities.

In 1960 the first kidney transplant was performed by NHS doctors at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, between a pair of twins. The UK’s first heart transplant was carried out in the National Heart hospital in London in 1968. And the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in the UK in 1978.

The NHS now treats more than 1 million patients every 36 hours. In the most recent ‘Friends and Family Test’ (January 2019), more than 2.7 million people responded to a questionnaire after using NHS services and more than 93% said they would recommend the services to a friend or family member.

The NHS Blood and Transplant department receives donations from around 6000 people in the UK every day, and distributes blood around the country. In a year 1.4 million units of blood are collected for patients across England, which is equal to 735,000 litres – enough to fill a hot tub more than 400 times! The country’s busiest donor centre is West End, near Oxford Circus underground station, which collects more than 45,000 donations a year.

Public Service Day: NHS staff in hospital

Turning the tide on plastic

The BBC’s Blue Planet series, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, is credited with changing the UK’s attitude towards single-use plastics. The Bafta-award-winning show raised awareness of the pollution of our oceans, encouraging us to take part in beach cleans, reduce our plastic usage, and the government banned microbeads in 2017.

Highways England keep us moving

Highways England is responsible for the upkeep and improvements on England’s motorways and major A roads: over 4000 miles in total. While this only makes up 2 per cent of all roads in England by length, they carry a third of all traffic by mileage and two thirds of all heavy goods traffic.

In 2017 vehicles on the roads maintained by Highways England travelled 94.1 billion miles – the highest total ever recorded, and an increase of 2.1% on the previous year.

Public Service Day: Highways England manage motorways and A roads, M25

Images © Getty.

Related content