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Cut the crap: an alternative glossary of NHS jargon

Cut the crap: an alternative glossary of NHS jargon
By Léa Legraien Reporter
21 December 2018

If you’ve ever felt perplexed by NHS parlance, we’re here to help. Léa Legraien unravels healthcare’s most hideous buzzwords

Key to irritation

Useful idea, stupid name

Just annoying

Please stop using

1 Service user

DEFINITION As the name suggests, a service user is a person who uses or has used healthcare services. Sor far, nothing too complicated.

NHS England differentiates service users from patients. In 2010, a study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists recommended national and local services to use the term patients rather than service user when referring to people receiving mental health treatment.

The study highlighted that service user was, in general, more disliked than liked by patients.

CUTTING THE CRAP Well, if people accessing health services don’t like being referred to as service users, what other reason do we need to ditch the jargon?

IS IT USEFUL? Only if you want to upset people. Please use patients and thank you.


2 Low-hanging fruit

DEFINITION The term low-hanging fruit can be quite literal: a Google Images search will, for example, mostly show you pictures of low-hanging apples.

So how does that fit within the healthcare sector? When applied to situations that require changes or solutions to a problem, it’s a piece of jargon that describes a work or an action that can be easily done, without much effort.

For example, NHS England once said that low-hanging fruit for prevention in the NHS ‘lies in the early detection and improved management of high-risk conditions’.

CUTTING THE CRAP Despite being popular in a business context, the metaphor has no place in the healthcare language.

Here are a few alternatives you can use instead: quick win, simple solution or quick fix. You’re welcome.

IS IT USEFUL? Yes, if you’re craving apples but don’t have a ladder.


3 Drill down

DEFINITION The expression drill down is mostly found in the IT sector. It denotes the action of looking for something on a computer or a website by narrowing the search from general information to more specific data.

In other contexts, it means examining or studying something in detail.

Here is an example of how NHS England has used the term: ‘The dashboard, created by Midlands and Lancashire commissioning support unit, also allows users to highlight specific discharge outcomes and drill down functionality to individual patients for a deeper analysis.’ Very clear.

CUTTING THE CRAP Well, since the NHS’s definition has gotten us quite confused, shall we stick to scrutinising?

IS IT USEFUL? Only if you have a drill.


4 Granularity

DEFINITION You might have heard some CCG leads say that ‘we need more granularity to assess the CCG’s plans for the next financial year’. No? Don’t worry, we’re here to help you understand what it actually means.

The noun granularity designates something whose condition or quality is granular. It refers to the level of detail that is included in a model, decision-making process or set of data. The greater the granularity, the more detailed the information.

CUTTING THE CRAP We would argue that people who use the word granularity think they sound more knowledgeable. After all, isn’t the term fancier than ‘more detail’?

IS IT USEFUL? No, this is yet another example of jargon that isn’t needed. Next time, just ask for more detail. Thank you.


5 Boarding

DEFINITION Hospitals resort to boarding when services operate under strain, especially in winter. This means moving patients from a specialty ward to a ward treating different illnesses in order to accommodate a new influx of patients.

In 2013, Scottish academics said that boarding at a system level is a false economy, as it increases the length of patients’ stay in hospital and exacerbates the issue that boarding is meant to tackle.

CUTTING THE CRAP Well, if academics believe that moving patients from one ward to another is bad for them and for the healthcare system, then surely this word cannot remain in the NHS vernacular?

IS IT USEFUL? Only if you’re going on holiday.


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