Better wellbeing and health for all
Start of content Start of content



Find your way around commonly used health service terminology with this handy jargonbuster. Terms are listed alphabetically below (with their relevant acronym where appropriate). Jump to the letter you want using the alphabet here:


If you come across any other terms or acronyms you think should be included in the jargonbuster email the details to



Accident and Emergency (A&E) - hospital department which deals with patients with serious illnesses or injuries requiring urgent treatment.

Acute - used to describe a disorder or symptom that comes on suddenly and needs urgent treatment. It is not necessarily severe and often lasts only a short time. Acute is also used to describe hospitals where treatment for such conditions is available.

Acute Trust - an NHS body which provides medical and surgical services from one or more hospitals.


Bed blocking - see delayed discharge


Care Quality Commission (CQC) - the organisation which oversees quality standards for all health and social care providers in England.

Clinician - any health professional who is directly involved in the care and treatment of patients including doctors, nurses, therapists, midwives.

Commissioning - the process of planning, designing, buying and reviewing services to meet a population's needs, making best use of the funds and other resources available.

Community care - Care, often for elderly people, people with learning or physical disabilities, mental illness or with long term conditions, which is provided outside a main hospital setting, e.g. in their home or a local health centre.

Community hospital - local hospital serving a relatively small population (usually less than 100,000), providing a range of clinical services but not equipped to handle emergency admissions. Sometimes called cottage hospitals.

Community matron - senior nurse with expertise in dealing with patients with very complex, often long-term, needs, in their home or community.

Community health services - a general term for services provided outside hospitals in people's homes or community locations. Includes district nurses, health visitors, community midwives.

Consultant - senior doctor who specialises in a particular area of medicine

CQUIN (Commissioning for Quality and Innovation) - system where commissioners of services make a proportion of their payment to providers of services dependent on the provider achieving certain standards. It is used to give an incentive for improving practice in high priority areas.


Day case or day surgery - patients who have an investigation, treatment or operation and are admitted and discharged on the same day.

Delayed discharge - where a patient who is fit for discharge remains in an acute hospital bed because other more suitable care cannot be provided.

Diagnostics or diagnostic tests - procedures and tests to help identify a condition or illness e.g. blood tests, x-rays, scans.

District General Hospital (DGH) - hospital which provides a range of clinical services for a defined population of 150,000 or more for hospital care but not necessarily including highly specialised services.


Elective care or elective admission - planned treatment where a patient is admitted to hospital from a waiting list. Can be as a day case or inpatient.

Emergency admission - patient who is admitted on the same day that admission is requested. Also known as urgent admission or unplanned care.

European Working Time Directive (EWTD) - legislation which limits the number of hours worked by employees. It has impacted on how health services (particularly in hospitals) are organised as it limits the number of hours doctors (particularly those in training) can work each week.


Foundation Trust (FT) - A new type of NHS organisation which has more independence from government but remain within the NHS. They are run locally by a Board of Governors and local people can become Members to have more say in how the hospital is run. It is intended that all NHS Trusts (NHS providers of services) will become Foundation Trusts.


General practitioner (GP) - A family doctor who works from a local surgery to provide medical advice or treatment to patients registered on their list.

GP consortia - groups of GP practices joining together as organisations to lead the commissioning of services.

GP led commissioning - where groups of GPs hold the budget for healthcare for their population and lead the commissioning of services. Can incorporate 'practice based commissioning' (see below) but the term is wider and goes further.

GP with a special interest (GPSI or GPwSI) - a GP with extra training or skills in a particular condition or type of treatment. They may take referrals from other GPs and may be an alternative to a hospital referral.

> Back to top


Health Outcomes - the health status of an individual, group or population. Improved health outcomes could be improved survival and recovery rates, reduced inequalities or increasing life expectancy.

Healthcare Acquired Infection (HCAI) - infections that are acquired in hospitals or as a result of receiving healthcare.


Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) - an independent advisory panel which investigates disputed plans to change health services and advises the Secretary of State for Health.

Inpatient - a patient who been admitted to hospital and is occupying a hospital bed.

Intermediate care - services designed to assist the transition from dependence on medical or social care towards day to day independence, for example to assist patients make the transition home after leaving hospital. See also 'step-up care' and 'step-down care'.


Joint Commissioning - different organisations (often Primary Care Trusts and social care) working together in the strategic planning and development of services, often pooling their resources. See also 'commissioning'


KPI (Key Performance Indicator) - a measurement, usually a statistic, which gives you an indication of how well a service is peforming against targets.


Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) - a local group bringing together health, education, employment and other public and voluntary organisations to agree and work together on priorities for improving the local area.

Long-term condition (LTC) - conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or arthritis, which cannot at present be cured but whose progress can be managed and influenced by medication and other therapies.


Mental Health Trust - NHS organisation which provides treatment and care for people who have a mental health condition. Services may be provided in hospital or in the community.

Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) - a walk in service, usually nurse led, which can treat minor injuries and illness which don't require a full A&E unit.


National Service Frameworks (NSFs) - Department of Health documents setting out expected standards of care based on best available evidence.

NHS Trust - NHS organisations, headed by a Board of Executive and Non-Executive Directors, which provide NHS services.

NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) - an independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on promoting good health and preventing and treating ill health.

Non-Executive Director (NED) - lay person appointed to the Boards of NHS Trusts, Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts. Recruited through open advertisement through the NHS Appointments Commission.

NPSA (National Patient Safety Agency) - national organisation which contributes to improved, safe patient care by informing, supporting and influencing the health sector.

> Back to top


Obstetrics - medical care of women during pregnancy and childbirth.

Out of Hours (OOH) services - services provided in the evening and nights, weekends and other times for patients needing medical care urgently. Often used to refer to services provided when GP surgeries are closed.

Outpatients - people who are seen in a clinic but not admitted to hospital. Appointments may take place in a community setting or hospital.


Paediatrics - branch of medicine dealing with illness in children.

Payment by results (PbR) - a funding system for NHS care in England where providers of care are paid for each patient they treat and the type of treatment that patient receives. It is based on a 'tariff' or price for different procedures or types of treatment which is based on the average cost of treating similar patients.

Planned care - when a patient goes into hospital on a specific day for a specific purpose (e.g. surgery or tests), not as an emergency. See also 'elective care'.

Practice based commissioning (PBC) - a government policy which gives a nominal budget to groups of GPs so they can design and buy the most appropriate services for their patients. See also 'GP-led commissioning'

Primary care - collective term for all services which are people's first point of contact with the NHS. Includes GPs, opticians, dentists and pharmacists.

Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) - NHS bodies with responsibility for commissioning services for their local area and undertaking work to improve the health of people in the local area. They also commission or directly provide community health services and work with primary care services.

Professional Executive Committee (PEC) - a Primary Care Trust's clinical advisory and leadership committee, made up of local GP and health professional representatives and PCT Board Members.

PROMs (Patient Reported Outcome Measures) - a way of assessing how successful a treatment has been by asking the patient to rate how much difference it has made to their health and quality of life.


Quality Account - an annual report to the public from providers of NHS care about the quality of their services

QIPP (Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention) - a Department of Health programme which requires NHS organisations to find ways of organising care and services more efficiently to make savings for reinvestment in the service.


Rehabilitation - treatment designed to facilitate the process of recovery from illness, injury or disease to as normal a position as possible.

Respite care - care which allows a patient's carer to have a break. The cared for person may spend time in a residential home.


Secondary care - collective term for services to which a patient is referred after their first point of contact. Usually refers to hospitals offering specialised services (outpatient and inpatient) but can also be mental health or other specialised services.

Social care - non-medical care which is aimed at providing vulnerable people such as the sick or elderly with support and care to enable them to live their lives as fully as possible.

Step-down care - part of intermediate care outside acute hospitals, enabling people to leave acute hospital and get ready to return home.

Step-up care - part of intermediate care outside acute hospitals, enabling people to receive more support than is available at home, preventing them from requiring a hospital admission.

Strategic Health Authority (SHA) - the local headquarters of the NHS, responsible for ensuring that national priorities are integrated into local plans. Act as the link between the Department of Health and the local NHS.

> Back to top


Tertiary care - collective term for services to which a patient is referred to from secondary care, usually from one consultant to another. Often this refers to hospitals offering very specialised medical services.

Trauma - very serious injury, e.g. following a serious car accident

Triage - a system for assessing and sorting patients according to medical need.


Unplanned care - when a patient is treated urgently or at short notice. Sometimes used interchangeably with 'emergency care' or 'unscheduled care'.



Walk in centre - a primary care centre, usually staffed by senior nurses and/or GPs, where patients can attend for routine medical advice or treatment without an appointment.

World class commissioning (WCC) - a Department of Health initiative aimed at developing the capacity of Primary Care Trusts to undertake commissioning effectively, by setting out the skills they need and assessing how well they are doing and how they can improve.




Back to top

Back to homepage