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Overview of the health and social care sector in the UK

Get all the essential information about the sector that employs around four million people in the UK

What areas of health and social care can I work in?

Health consists of both private and public sector organisations including:

  • dental practices;
  • general medical and specialist medical practices;
  • hospitals;
  • medical nursing homes;
  • other human health activities such as psychotherapy and physiotherapy.

Employment opportunities in the social care sector are grouped into:

  • residential nursing care;
  • residential nursing activities;
  • residential care facilities;
  • child day care
  • non-residential social care.

For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in health and social care.

Who are the main graduate employers?

The largest employer in the health sector is the National Health Service (NHS) which employs more than 1.7 million people in the UK.

Unlike the health sector, social care roles are split across a number of different sized businesses. These include:

  • residential and non-residential care;
  • private/independent organisations;
  • public sector;
  • charity/voluntary organisations.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering the health and social care sector can expect:

  • shift work with unsociable and often long working hours;
  • different working conditions within the same role and organisation. For example experiences of working in a hospital will differ between the outpatients department and the morgue;
  • a working environment that can be stressful and emotionally involved;
  • a relatively low level of self employment;
  • to be able to work anywhere in the country as all communities require health and social care roles such as doctors and dentists.

What are the key issues in the health and social care sector?

The biggest issue that the health and social care sector faces is meeting an increased demand for services when budgets are being tightened.

Budget restrictions could mean that less health and social care jobs are created. Although this isn't necessarily bad news, as graduates will be needed to replace those professionals that retire or leave.

There are a high number of applications for medical and dental degree programmes and fewer places available. The UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test) helps universities to make informed choices from the pool of highly-qualified applicants.

There are signs that recent graduates are finding it difficult to secure work immediately after graduation in some health and social care jobs. In 2010/11 fewer graduates found work six months after graduation as social workers, physiotherapists, medical radiographers and occupational therapists than graduates from 2009/10 (HECSU, What Do Graduates Do? 2012)

Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
November 2012

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