Glossary

The health sector can sometimes use jargon. We have developed this glossary to explain these terms in more detail. You'll also find the glossary items throughout the site where they have been used. The explanation will appear by hovering above terms in green.

Click one of the letters above to take you to the terms beginning with that letter.

A

A&E

Accident and emergency.

Acute medical unit

The first point of entry into hospital for patients who have been referred as emergencies by their GP or who require admission from the A&E department.

ADHD

The abbreviation for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

AfC

Agenda for Change. The main pay system for NHS staff, except doctors, dentists and senior managers.

Agenda for Change

The main pay system for staff in the NHS, except doctors, dentists and senior managers. Abbreviated to AfC.

Aneurysms

Caused by dilation of a blood vessel, and can lead to rupture and death.

Angioedema

The swelling of the deeper layers of the skin, caused by a build-up of fluid.

Aorta

The largest artery in the body.

Autoimmune disease

A problem with the body’s immune system, when it starts to attack healthy cells, tissues and organs. Examples include lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

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B

Bariatric surgery

Surgery for weight loss, such as gastric bypass surgery or gastric band.

Biopsy

A sample of cells or tissue is removed from the body and tested to help exclude or establish a diagnosis such as cancer.

Bronchoscopy

Examination of the airways using a bronchoscope (a flexible or rigid tube with a small camera and light at the end).

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C

Cardiac arrest

A cessation of the normal regular muscular contractions of the heart, meaning blood cannot be pumped around the body

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

Involves the administration of live-saving chest compressions to someone who is not breathing or who has suffered a cardiac arrest (heart attack).

Cardiovascular

Concerning the heart and blood vessels.

Catheter

A flexible tube that is inserted into the body to remove or introduce fluids. Catheters also have other uses, for example to widen obstructed blood vessels.

CCT

Certificate of completion of training. Confirms that a doctor has completed an approved training programme in the UK and is eligible for entry onto the GP register or the specialist register. The Certificate of Eligibility for Specialist Registration (CESR) provides an alternative route to the specialist register for those doctors who have not followed a traditional training programme, but who may have gained the same skills as CCT holders.

Certificate of completion of training

Confirms that a doctor has completed an approved training programme in the UK and is eligible for entry onto the GP register or the specialist register. Abbreviated to CCT.

Chemotherapy

Treatment for cancer patients with drugs that destroy the cancer cells.

CIEH

Chartered Institute for Environmental Health. An independent organisation representing the interests of the environmental health profession.

Clinical audit

A process that has been defined as "a quality improvement process that seeks to improve patient care and outcomes through systematic review of care against explicit criteria and the implementation of change."

Clinical commissioning group

A group of GPs repsonsible for designing local health services in England. Abbreviated to CCG.

Clinical effectiveness

A measure of the extent to which a particular treatment or intervention works.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

A talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. Abbreviated to CBT.

Colonoscopy

A procedure allowing the examination of the colon using a thin flexible tube with a light and camera at one end (known as an endoscope).

Colorectal

Relating to the colon or rectum.

Competition ratio

Competition ratios tell you how many applications were received relative to the number of places available. 

Corporate governance

A system that incorporates processes to minimise all risks in an organisation.

Corticosteroid

Corticosteroids are a class of steroid hormones that are produced in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates, as well as the synthetic analogues of these hormones

Similar Terms: Corticosteroid

Corticosteroid drugs

Similar to corticosteroid hormones that are produced by the adrenal glands, which are small glands at the top of the kidney. Often known as steroids, they are prescribed for a variety of conditions, via tablets, injection, inhalers, creams and so on.  

Croup

A common condition in babies and young children resulting in narrowing and inflammation of the airways that causes hoarseness, noisy breathing and a cough. It is usually viral.

CT scans

Computerised tomography scan. Uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of the body. Sometimes referred to as a CAT scan or computed tomography scan.

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D

Data mining

The process of extracting information from a set of data and putting it into a format that can be easily understood for further use.

Differential diagnosis

A series of potential diagnoses that could explain the symptoms a patient is experiencing, which can then potentially lead to the correct diagnosis.

DNA

Deoxyribonucleic acid. The hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms.

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E

Elective

A period of time (often 6-12 weeks) spent away from a medical degree on a placement, often overseas. A wide range of other health-related degree courses can also include an elective, such as dentistry, nursing, physiotherapy and pharmacy.

Electro-convulsive therapy

A standard psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in patients to provide relief from psychiatric illnesses. Formerly known as electroshock therapy.

Electrocardiograms

A test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of the heart. 

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

A test to record the electrical activity of the brain – used for diagnosis and monitoring of certain conditions that affect the brain. 

Endometrial ablation

A medical procedure that is used to remove (ablate) or destroy the endometrial lining of a uterus.

Endoscope

A flexible or rigid tube with a small camera and light at the end, used for examination, photography, biopsy and surgery/treatment. Light is carried along the tube by very fine glass fibres.

Endoscopy

Examination of a body cavity using an endoscope, which is a flexible or rigid tube with a small camera and light. Operations can also sometimes be carried out by passing instruments into the endoscope.

Endotracheal intubations

A medical procedure in which a tube is placed into the windpipe (trachea) through the mouth or nose.

Endovascular

Using wires, catheters, balloons, stents and devices to treat arterial disease in a minimally invasive way.

Epidemiology

The study of patterns of health and disease in populations.

Epidural

This is the injection of local anaesthetic or other pain-relieving medicines into a space that surrounds your spinal cord. It temporarily numbs your nerves.

ERCP

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is technique where a thin flexible tube with a light and camera is inserted via the mouth.It is mainly used to diagnose and treat bile duct and pancreatic duct conditions.

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F

Flexible sigmoidoscopy

A endoscopic procedure that allows the examination of the lining of the rectum and the lower part of the colon. A long flexible tube is inserted, which has a camera and light at one end (known as an endoscope).

Foundation training

Part of a doctor’s training and takes place after the completion of a medical degree at university. It comprises a series of rotations in different specialties within hospitals or in the community. The first year of training is known as FY1 and the second FY2. Foundation training precedes specialist training in medicine or surgery.

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G

Genetics

The branch of science that deals with how you inherit physical and behavioural characteristics, including medical conditions.

Genomics

A discipline in genetics that looks at the function and structure of genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism).

Grades A-C

From 2017, results for some GCSE subjects in England will be graded U to 9, with grades 4-9 being equivalent to GCSE grades C and above.

Similar Terms: grade A-C grades A - C grade A - C GCSE grades GCSEs at grade C

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H

Haemodialysis

A method of removing waste products from the blood using a dialyser or artificial kidney.

Harvesting veins

Removal of healthy veins to be used elsewhere in the body

HCPC

The Health and Care Professions Council. A regulatory body that maintains a register of a number of healthcare professions.

Heart murmurs

Abnormal sounds caused by turbulent blood flow within the heart.

Holistic

Relating to the whole thing rather than just a part. In a health setting this means having a concern for the whole person, where body and mind are linked.

HSST

NHS Higher Specialist Scientific Training. Training for registered clinical scientists to enable them to practise at consultant healthcare scientist level.

Human Genome Project

A project to gain a better understanding of how certain traits and characteristics are passed on from parents to children.

Hypertension

Abnormally high blood pressure.

Hysteroscopy

A procedure used to examine the inside of the uterus (womb).

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I

In vitro

Techniques conducted in a laboratory setting, where a glass dish or test tube is used for observations made outside the body. A well-known example is in vitro-fertilisation, where sperm and egg are fertilised outside the body.

Informatics

The science of computer information systems. As an academic field it involves the practice of information processing, and the engineering of information systems.

Intensive care

The care of seriously ill people.

Intercalated degree

This involves talking a year out of your medical or dental degree to study for an additional degree. Your course will be one year longer, but you will end up with two degrees, one in medicine or dentistry and another degree, eg BSc or BMedSci. Consult individual medical and dental schools to find out if intercalation is possible, and at what stage this can be done.

Intrauterine contraceptives

A small T-shaped device made from plastic and copper that is fitted in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Also called a coil.

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L

Laryngeal

Pertaining to the larynx.

Lipid disorders

Metabolic disorders that result in abnormal amounts of fatty substances that are insoluble in water (lipids) which may lead to serious illnesses.

Local area networks
A computer network that connects computers within a limited areas such as a home, hospital or office buidling using network media. Abbreviated to LAN.
Lumbar puncture

The insertion of a hollow needle into the spinal canal, to inject drugs or other substances or to withdraw cerebrospinal fluid.

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M

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

An imaging technique that uses powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to provide detailed cross-sectional or three-dimensional images of the body.

Metabolic

The processes, both physical and chemical, by which the living body is built up and maintained, and by which molecules are broken down to make energy available to the organism.

MHRA

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency

Mitral valves

Valve with two tapered cusps, located between the left atrium and the left ventricle of the heart. Also called the bicuspid valve.

MRCP

Membership of the Royal College of Physicians

MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging.

Multi-morbidity

Multiple long-term, chronic health conditions.

Multi-morbidity

Multiple long-term chronic conditions

Multidisciplinary team meeting (MDT)

Different professionals meet together to discuss the diagnosis and treatment of patients.  They include doctors from different specialties, nurses and many other professionals such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

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N

Nanotechnology

Enables scientists to examine molecules and atoms at the smallest possible microscopic level. Measurements are made in nanometers. One nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

Nebuliser

A device used to administer drugs including corticosteroids for conditions such as asthma.

Neonatal

The period of time following a baby’s birth, up to four weeks after birth.

NHS Constitution

Sets out the rights that patients, the public and staff are entitled to, and the pledges that the NHS is committed to achieving.

NMC

The Nursing and Midwifery Council. A regulatory body that maintains a register of nurses, midwives and health visitors.

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O

On call

Where a member of staff is available to be called for work, usually outside normal working hours. This can involve answering enquiries over the phone, or physically attending the workplace. It can also sometimes involve sleeping at the workplace to be available to deal with emergencies.

Oncology

The branch of medicine that deals with the study and treatment of tumours, particularly cancerous tumours.

Orthoses

Devices worn in shoes either to change the way the foot works while walking or to provide support. They are used to help pain outside the foot such as in the ankle, knee, hip or back. 

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P

Paracentesis

Puncture of the wall of a body cavity by a hollow needle in order to draw off excess fluid or to obtain diagnostic material (eg abdomen or chest).

Parenteral

The administration of drugs or other fluids into the body by any route except via the gastrointestinal tract (for example by intravenous or intramuscular injection or infusion).

Parenteral nutrition

The provision of carbohydrate, fat and proteins via intravenous administration (feeding).

Perioperative

The goal of perioperative care is to provide better conditions for patients before, during and after the operation.

Personal development plan

An action plan based on self awareness, values, reflection, goal-setting and planning for career development. Abbreviated to PDP.

PHE

Public Health England.

Physiology

The science of the functions of living organisms.

Pleural aspiration

A small needle is inserted into the space between the lungs and the chest wall to remove fluid that has accumulated around the lung.

Plexus blocks

Regional anesthesia techniques that are sometimes employed as an alternative to general anesthesia for surgery of the shoulder, arm, forearm, wrist and hand.

Polypharmacy

The administration of different drugs taken together, which increases the likelihood of side effects from drug interactions.

Primary care

Care provided by GP practices, dental practices, community pharmacies and high street optometrists. It is many people's first (primary) point of contact with the NHS. Around 90% of patient interaction is with primary care services.

Prostheses

Plural of prosthesis. An artificial device that replaces a missing body part, which may have been lost through trauma, disease, or congenital conditions.

PTP

NHS Practitioner Training Programme. An undergraduate route into healthcare science, via an accredited BSc (Hons) in healthcare science.

Pulmonary embolism

A blood clot in the pulmonary artery or in the lung.

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Q

Quality and Outcomes Framework

The annual reward and incentive programme that measures the achievements of GP practices. Abbreviated to QOF.

Quality assurance

A way of preventing mistakes or defects in products and avoiding problems in customer service.

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R

Radiotherapy

Treatment of cancer patients with x-rays or other radiation.

Red flag

Symptoms that indicate a potentially serious disease and warrant prompt investigation and treatment.

Respiratory

Related to the respiratory (breathing) system, which includes the nose, throat (pharynx), larynx, windpipe (trachea), lungs and diaphragm.
 

Run through

Some medical trainee pathway posts are such that, once the trainee starts a pathway, provided they meet the Annual Review of Competence Programme (ARCP), they will continue on that pathway until they reach the end of their training.

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S

Secondary care

Relates to services provided by specialist doctors or other health professionals who generally don't have the first contact with the patient, but are referred by primary care (often by a GP). Secondary care services are usually provided in a hospital or clinic.

Spinal block

This is a alternative to general anaesthesia when the surgical site is located on the lower extremities, perineum (eg, surgery on the genitalia or anus), or lower abdominal area.

STP

NHS Scientist Training Programme. A graduate entry route to become a clinical scientist.

Stroke

Caused when there is interruption of the blood supply to the brain, which is often the result of a blood clot in a cerebral (brain) artery (ischaemic stroke). It may also be caused by the rupturing of a blood vessel in or near the brain (haemorrhagic stroke). 

Subdermal contraceptive implants

A type of birth control. It is a small flexible tube measuring about 40mm in length which is inserted under the skin.

Suture

A stitch or series of stitches used to close a wound.

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T

Tertiary care

Treatment given in a large regional hospital that provides highly specialised care, for example in cardiac surgery or oncology.
 

Thrombosis

The formation of a blood clot in the blood vessels or heart.

Tinnitus

Noises heard in the ear without an external cause, such as buzzing or ringing.

Topologies

Plural of topology, an area of mathematics concerned with the properties of space.

Tracheostomies

Plural of tracheostomy, an opening created at the front of the neck so a tube can be inserted into the windpipe (trachea) to help you breathe.

Transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

Also known as a “mini-stroke”, this occurs when there is a brief interruption of the blood supply to the brain, causing symptoms similar to those of a stroke. The symptoms typically last less than one hour and are completely resolved within 24 hours.

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U

Ultrasound

A procedure that uses high frequency sound waves to produce images of body structures. Can also be used to provide treatment or assist with the healing process.

United Kingdom Public Health Register

A register providing public assurance for the provision of a competent workforce that contributes to a high quality public health service. Abbreviated to UKPHR.

Urticaria

A raised, itchy rash on the skin. Also known as hives, welts or nettle rash.

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W

Wide area networks

A network covering a broad area, ie any telecommunications network that links regional, national or international boundaries using leased telecommunications.

Working Time Directive

Gives EU workers the right to a minimum number of holidays each year, rest breaks, and rest of at least 11 hours in any 24 hours; restricts excessive night work; gives a day off after a week's work; and provides for a right to work no more than 48 hours per week.

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