The A to Z of health services terminology in the UK

Medically reviewed by words by Pamela Brooks, Dr Juliet McGrattan (MBChB)
Photo credit: FatCamera - Getty Images

From Netdoctor

If you are in the UK and require professional advice regarding your health, the NHS provides a range of services. There are a number of health departments, staffed by a wide variety of healthcare professionals, with some crossover between departments. But what health services are available in the UK and what do the different terms mean?

Below is a list of the main terms you'll come across when you visit an NHS hospital in the UK:

• Accident and emergency (A&E)

The A&E department of a hospital deals with people who need emergency treatment because of sudden illness or injury. Also called casualty or emergency department (E.D).

• Acute care

Acute care is the hospital-based medical and surgical treatment.

• Acute trust

Acute trust is the NHS body providing medical and surgical services from one or more hospitals.

• Allied health professionals (AHP)

These NHS staff offering clinical care who are not doctors or nurses, eg radiologists, physiotherapists and psychologists.

• Admission

Admission refers to when a patient is taken into hospital.

• Ambulance service

The ambulance service are the people who respond to 999 calls and major incidents, urgent admission requests from doctors, and high-dependency and urgent transfers between hospitals.

• Blood-borne virus (BBV)

Blood-borne virus is a virus that is carried in the bloodstream.

• Bed blocking

Bed blocking means when a patient in a hospital bed should be discharged from the hospital either to their own home or to another care setting.

• Booking management service (BMS)

BMS is part of the choose and book service that lets you change, cancel and book hospital appointments, once you've been referred by your GP.

• Caldicott guardian

This is a person who has responsibility for policies that safeguard the confidentiality of patient information. All NHS bodies must appoint one.

• Care home

A care home is a residential home providing accommodation with nursing and personal care.

• Care package

A race package is after an assessment, this is agreed so the patient can receive the right care for their needs - which may include NHS and social care.

• Care pathway

These are the guidelines for the entire process of diagnosis, treatment and aftercare for medical conditions - from the patient's first contact with the NHS to the end of their treatment.

• Care plans

Care plans are written agreements setting out how care will be provided.

• Care professional

A care professional is anyone involved in providing healthcare or social care.

• Care programme approach (CPA)

The CPA is coordinated care for people who use specialist mental health services.

• Carer

A carer is a friend or relative looking after a person who is ill, disabled or elderly.

• Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG)

The CCG are responsible for the planning and commissioning of health care services for the local area that they serve. Led by elected GPs and other clinicians.

• Coronary heart disease (CHD)

CHD stands for coronary heart disease

• Chief Medical Officer (CMO)

The CMO is the Government's principal adviser on health and the professional lead for all medical staff. There are four CMOs in the UK, one each for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

• Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)

CAMHS are services provided for children and young people with emotional, behavioural and mental health needs.

• Choose and book

This is a method of booking hospital appointments once you have been referred by your GP. You can choose any hospital and the date and time of your appointment. The idea is to book online, although you may have to phone the hospital if they are not connected to the Choose and Book system.

• Clinical audit

This is a measurement and evaluation by health professionals of the clinical standards they are achieving.

• Clinician

A clinician is a general term used to refer to any professional who provides clinical care to a patient.

• Clinical negligence

Clinical negligence is a breach of duty by a healthcare professional.

• Community care

This is social care or treatment given to patients outside hospital.

• Community health services

These are NHS services provided outside a hospital, eg by district nurses, health visitors and community midwives.

• Continuing care

This is a person's care needs after hospital treatment has finished.

• Chief nursing officer (CNO)

The CNO is the Government's most senior nursing adviser, responsible for delivering nursing strategy. There are four CNOs in the UK, one each for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

• Cardiovascular disease (CVD)

CVD is the diseases of the heart (cardiac muscle) or blood vessels (vasculature).

• Day care

Day care is social support provided in a centre.

• Day case admission

This is when you are taken into hospital for treatment that doesn't need an overnight stay.

• District nurse

This is a registered nurse trained to provide nursing care to people in their own homes.

• eBooking

eBooking means online method of booking appointments for NHS services, eg via Choose and Book.

• Elective admission

When a patient is admitted to hospital from the waiting list for treatment.

• Emergency admission

When a patient is admitted to hospital at short notice because of clinical need.

• Elective operation

This is when an operation is booked in advance.

• Ear, nose and throat (ENT)

ENT means anything related to the ear, nose and throat.

• Episode

This is a period of a disease or treatment with a definite start and finish.

• Electronic patient record (EPR)

EPR is a patient's record, held electronically.

• Expert patient programme

This is for patients who, with support, can take the lead in managing their own long-term conditions such as diabetes or arthritis.

• Family planning clinic (FPC)

The FPC is an NHS clinic that offers free confidential advice and information on contraception and sexual health. Some may also offer specialist services such as abortion and rape counselling.

• General practitioner (GP)

A GP is a doctor who works in a local surgery or health centre, providing medical advice and treatment to patients registered on their list.

• Genitourinary medicine (GUM)

This related to sexual or reproductive health.

• GUM clinic - sexual health centre

This hospital department deals with sexual health with doctors who specialise in this area and is usually called a sexual health centre.

Health visitor

A health visitor is a trained nurse who has done further training to specialise in the prevention of ill health, particularly for children.

• Hospital consultant

This is a senior clinician based in a hospital.

• Intensive care unit (ICU)

The intensive care unit is where very seriously ill patients are looked after in a hospital.

• Inpatient

This is a patient who has been admitted to hospital for an overnight stay or longer period of time.

• Intravenous (IV)

IV treatment is administered by injection into a vein.

• Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)

MMR refers to the vaccination given for all three diseases.

• Modern matron

A modern matron is a trained nurse who leads the ward, raises standards of clinical care and helps nurses to undertake a greater range of clinical tasks.

• Multi-agency

These services involve
staff drawn from several organisations such as health, social services, education and voluntary groups.

• NHS number

This is the number used to identify a person within the NHS in England and Wales.

• Optician/Optometrist

These are specialist health professionals who test eyes and prescribe lenses to correct sight problems.

• Outpatient

Outpatients are people attending hospital for a consultation, advice or treatment, but not staying overnight.

• Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

PALS are the NHS equivalent of customer services.

• Patient record

This is the record of a patient's care and treatment (may be electronic).

• Pharmacists

Pharmacists are specialist health professionals who prepare and sell medicines.

• Primary care

The primary care services are provided in the community by family doctors, dentists, pharmacists, opticians, district nurses and health visitors.

• Rapid response team

This team provides emergency care at home.

• Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP)

The RCGP is the professional membership body for family doctors in the UK and overseas.

• Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

The Royal College of Nursing is a membership organisation and trade union for nurses, with over 432,000 members in the UK.

• Respite care

Respite care provides an opportunity for a carer to have a break; the person being cared for may spend time in a residential home.

Road traffic accident (RTA)

RTA is when someone is hurt in a road traffic accident.

• Secondary care

Secondary care is specialist care traditionally provided by hospitals in support of the primary care team. Examples are surgery, specialist medical services and mental health services.

• Service user

This is another term for a patient.

• Social care

Social care is non-medical care provided outside the NHS to help vulnerable people such as the sick and elderly to live their lives as fully as possible.

Social services

Social services are non-clinical support and care services provided by local councils, voluntary organisations and private organisations.

• Stakeholder

A stakeholder is a person or organisation with a direct interest in a service or practice.

• Tertiary care

Tertiary care is a complex or specialist care provided in a regional or national centre, eg for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

• Waiting list

This is people waiting to be admitted to a hospital as an inpatient.

• Walk-in centre

An NHS walk-in medical centre that offers fast access to health advice and treatment, mainly from nurses. They are open to anyone and you don't have to make an appointment.

Last updated: 17-10-19

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