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Your voice on health and social care

NHS jargon explained

Jargon used by the NHS can be confusing and bewildering if you do not come from a medical background. 

Use this handy guide to understand some of the more common phrases you may hear being used by doctors, nurses or health service managers. 

The NHS also uses a lot of acronyms - replacing words with a few letters. Click here to see the NHS Confederation's Acronym Buster.




Acute Services

Medical and surgical treatment provided mainly in hospitals.

Ambulatory Care

 Services where people do not stay in hospital overnight eg outpatients, X-ray, day surgery and medical diagnostics.


 Considering the circumstances of an individual, family, group or community when looking at a future plan of action.




 A method used to gauge performance by comparing it to that of other organisations, typically of similar size. Many organisations are now members of so called 'benchmarking clubs' eg CHKS, Dr Foster.



Caldicott Guardian

Each Trust has a Caldicott Guardian who ensures that patient information is collected, stored, used and released appropriately.

Caldicott Standards

These are a set of standards that regulate the use of patient information throughout the NHS.

Care Pathway

An approach to managing a specific disease or clinical condition that identifies early on what treatments and care are required, along with the possible outcome.

Care Quality Commission

Body established from 1 April 2009, which replaced the Healthcare Commission, Commission for Social Care Inspection and Mental Health Act Commission. More information at www.cqc.org.uk


The definition used by social services is: a person who provides a substantial amount of care on a regualr basis, and who is not employed to do so by an agency or organisation. A carer is usually a friend or relative looking after someone who is frail or ill at home.

C Diff

Abbreviation for Clostridium Difficile (also sometimes referred to as C Difficile), an infection which causes diarrhoea.

Choose and Book

The electronic referral system that allows GPs to refer patients electronically to acute service providers. Implemented in an indirect mode (known as Indirect Booking System or IBS), patients ring throigh to make an appointment from a choice of at least four providers while their referral is received electronically. Implemented in a Direct mode (known as Direct Booking System or DBS), patients can book directly into the appropriate Oupatient clinic.

Clinical Commissioning Group

New health commissioning organisations replaced Primary Care Trusts in April 2013. Commissioning organisations are responsible for planning and buying of healthcare across a defined geographical area to meet the needs of the local population. In Oxfordshire, this is the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.

Clinical Team

A clinical team may comprise of doctors, nurses and other health staff who provide care to patients and services of a particular type, eg cancer services.


A health professional who is directly involved in the care and treatment of patients, for example, nurses, doctors, therapists.


The process by which the needs of the local population are identified, priorities set and appropriate services purchased and evaluated, led by CCGs.

Community Care

Care, particularly for older people, people with learning disabilities or mental illness, which is provided outside the  hospital setting.


Term used to signify multiple illnesses.

Coronory Care Unit

Dedicated unit for specialist coronary (heart) care.

CT SCANNER - Computerised Tomography Scanner

A scanner that produces detailed cross-section images of the body that cannot be provided using conventional x-rays.

CTG - Cardiotocography

An electronic system that monitors foetal heart rate during labour.



 Day Care Admission

Day case patients are admitted for care or treatment which can be completed in a few hours and does not required a hospital bed overnight.

Delayed Transfer of Care

Patients occupying a hospital bed who are ready for discharge, but awaiting other services etc before they can be discharged.


Tests to help clinical staff reach a diagnosis, eg pathology tests or x-rays.



 Elective Admission

A patient who is admitted from waiting list, sometimes also called planned care.

Electronic Booking

A new system under development that will allow patients to make appointments directly and be able to obtain information on waiting times.

Electronic Patient Record

The electronic version of the medical record, linking clinical documentation, test and examination results, and details of patient encounters, available to clinicians instantly at different locations.

Emergency Admission

A patient admitted to hospital at short notice because of clinical need or because alternative care is not available.



 Facilities Management

Effective management of the buildings and infrastructure of an organisation, to provide an environment that strongly supports the primary objectives of that organisation.

Family Health Services

Services provided in the community through GPs, dentists, pharmacists and opticians.

Foundation Trust

Autonomous NHS organisations responsible for managing their services, free from central Government control. They decide how to improve their services and can retain any surpluses they generate or borrow money to support these investments. They establish strong connections with their local communities; local people can become members and governors. All Trusts are expected to become Foundation Trusts.



General Practitioners

Doctors who provide family health services to a local community. They are usually based in a surgery or GP practice and are often the first port of call for most patients with a concern about their health.



Health Protection Agency

Independent body that protects the health and well-being of the population. The Agency plays a critical role in protecting people from infectious diseases and in preventing harm when hazards involving chemicals, poisons or radiation occur. More at www.hpa.org.uk Now part of Public Health England.

Health and Wellbeing Boards

Forums for key leaders from health and social care to work together to improve the health and wellbeing of their local population and reduce health inequalities.

High Dependency Unit

Area for patients who require more intensive observation, treatment and nursing care than a general ward, but do not need to have full intensive care, called level 2 care.




A patient who has been admitted to hospital for treatment and is occupying a hospital bed.

Integrated Care Pathway

Improving the patient's route for treatment through different health and social care systems by combining resources and co-ordinating working methods to prevent hold-ups and jams.

Intensive Care (Treatment) Unit

Dedicated unit for intensive care of patients (level 3 care).

Intermediate Care

Nursing home, rehabilitation or home care services provided to ease the transition of the patient from hospital to home and from medical dependence to functional independence.




A special x-ray examination of breast tissue used in the early detection of breast cancer.

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency

The government agency which is responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe. The MHRA is an executive agency of the Department of Health. More at www.mhra.gov.uk


Foundation Trust and sector regulator for health care and reponsible for regulating all providers of NHS-funded care.

MRI Scanner - Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanner

A scanner that produces images of parts of the body by the use of strong magnetic field and electromagnetic waves.


Meticillin resistant staphylococcus aureus - infection that is resistant to most common antibiotics. MRSA bacteraemia means that patients have MRSA in their bloodstream which can be life threatening.

Multi Disciplinary Team

This is a team of professionals drawn from various disciplines within the Trust that combine their expertise to the benefit of patients.



Never Event

An event considered unacceptable and eminently preventable. A never event must be declared to the Strategic Health Authority and investigated.

NHS Direct

This is a telephone helpline and website that gives access to a 24-hour nurse advice and health information service, providing confidential information service, providing confidential information on: what to do if you or your family are feeling ill; particular health conditions; local healthcare services such as doctors, dentists or late-night opening pharmacies, and self-help and support organisations. More at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

NHS Direct Online

NHS Direct online is the gateway to health advice and information on the internet. It includes an easy-to-use guide to treating common symptoms at home and links to thousands of sources of help and advice. More at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

NHS Number

This is a unique number that will be given to every baby at birth and will be used as a NHS identifier for life.

NICE - National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

Body set up in April 1999 to decide which health treatments and technologies - from drugs to artificial hips - should be available on the NHS. More at www.nice.org.uk

Non-Executive Directors

Lay people appointed by the Appointments Commission who sit on the Trust board with the EDs, overseeing the work of the organisation.


Also known as winter vomiting virus or Norwalk virus. Most common cause of infectious gastroenteritis in England and Wales. It is present all year round but peaks in the winter months. Oubreaks are common in semi-closed environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools and cruise ships.


Nursing Home

A residential home that has qualified nursing staff available to provide nursing care.




A patient who attends hospital for treatment, consultation and advice but does not require a stay in hospital.

Overview and Scrutiny Committee

An all-party group of elected local councillors that reviews local NHS services and other issues. Introduced by Local Government Act 2000.



 Palliative Care

The care of patients whose disease is now life limiting and is no longer curable, eg cancer, HIV/Aids, and motor-neurone disease. It takes into account the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of care of patients, with the aim of providing the best quality of life and the best death for them.

PALS - Patient Advice and Liaison Service

PALS provide advice and support to patients, friends and carers, as well as resolving problems and giving information about NHS. 

Patient Transport Service

The PTS transports patients with non-urgent conditions to and from hospitals and day care centres, and carries out non-urgent inter-hospital transfers. Patients must meet medical and other criteria to qualify for this service.

Personal Social Services

Personal care services for vulnerable people, including those with special needs because of old age or physical disability and children in need of care and protection, which are provided throughhome care and home help services, social workers and residential care homes.

Personal Social Services

Personal care services for vulnerable people, including those with special needs because of old age or physical disability and children in need of care and protection, which are provided through home care and home help services, social workers and residential care homes.

Primary Health Care Team

Professional staff working in or attached to general practices to provide a range of health care needs. Includes GPs and community nursing staff.

Public Health England

A new public health body, the expert voice for public health, an executive agency of the Department of Health.



Royal Colleges

Statutory organisations that set and monitor professional standards for clinical services.



Secondary Care

Specialist care, typically provided in a hospital setting or following referral from primary or community health professional.

Service User

An individual who uses, requests, applies for, or benefits from health or local authority services. They may also be referred to as a client, patient or consumer.



Tertiary Care

Care of a highly specialist nature typically provided in regional centres.

Therapy Services

These are provided by 'allied health professionals' who include dieticians, hearing therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, podiatrists (chiropodists) and speech & language therapists.



Walk-In Centres

Nurse-led drop-in centres managed by the NHS that provide minor treatments, self-help advice and information on the NHS, social services and other local healthcare organisations.


Policy in place to enable staff to raise concerns about possible malpractice within the Trust.