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Cut the crap: an alternative glossary of NHS jargon

Cut the crap: an alternative glossary of NHS jargon
By Lea Legraien Reporter
8 August 2018

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

As if understanding the way our healthcare system works isn’t complicated and taxing enough, deciphering NHS jargon only makes things worse.

Activated patient, top-up fee and telecare are just a few examples of the numerous health and social care terms that could make people lose their minds.

Here at Healthcare Leader, we’ve decided it’s time to stop jargonising the way we talk about health and start cutting the crap.

We took five NHS buzzwords and tried to squeeze some sense out of them.


Key to irritation

Useful idea, stupid name

Just annoying

Please stop using


1 Suitable person

DEFINITION A suitable person can refer to a licensed doctor who has been approved by the General Medical Council as someone who is suitable to make a revalidation recommendation about a doctor’s fitness to practice.

It also denotes someone who manages direct payments on behalf of an individual who lacks the mental capacity to make decisions about their own finances. They are usually chosen by the council.

CUTTING THE CRAP No jokes to be made here but in our opinion, the term undermines the way mentally ill people, who are deemed unsuitable, are perceived. How about using ‘authorised person’ instead?

IS IT USEFUL? The idea, yes, the term, no.



2 Horizon scanning

DEFINITION If you search for ‘horizon scanning’ online, Google Images will show you a bunch of people looking at the horizon – or standing meerkats, which left us perplexed as to their correlation with the NHS.

Within healthcare, horizon scanning relates to the way organisations plan for the future by looking at how areas such as medicines, people’s needs and services might change. It involves identifying potential threats, risks, emerging issues and opportunities that could affect current practice.

CUTTING THE CRAP Is it not what organisations do when they plan? Please just use planning.

IS IT USEFUL? Only if you live in the countryside as it might be difficult to see the horizon if you are surrounded by skyscrapers.



3 Never events

DEFINITION Although they sound like they didn’t actually occur, never events are serious patient safety incidents that could have been prevented if appropriate measures had been in place.

They include wrong site surgery, objects retained in the body post procedure and falls from poorly restricted windows, among others. In the worst cases, they can result in the death of a patient.

CUTTING THE CRAP The National Quality Forum, a non-profit health organisation based in the US, refers to these as ‘serious reportable events’. Maybe we should just do the same?

IS IT USEFUL? No, it’s yet another confusing term that doesn’t reflect what it’s really meant to cover.



4 Step up/step down beds

DEFINITION Step up beds are alternatives to hospital admission when a patient cannot be taken care of at home but doesn’t need to stay in an acute hospital. Step down beds replace early discharge from hospital when a patient cannot be supported at home but does not need to be in an acute hospital. And if you’re still following this explanation, at this stage, then well done.

CUTTING THE CRAP To get to the point, these are short-stay beds available in places such as care homes and intended to reduce unnecessary admissions.

IS IT USEFUL? Yes, if you like complicated definitions.



5 Lived experience

DEFINITION Lived experience is the knowledge and understanding of something acquired through first-hand experience.

CUTTING THE CRAP One word: experience.

IS IT USEFUL? Unless stated, an experience is usually lived by the person in question. Let’s drop the first term and stick to experience alone, please. Thank you.


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