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Cut the crap: an alternative glossary of NHS jargon

By Léa Legraien
16 August 2018

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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.

Suitable person, horizon scanning and never events 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 Vanguard

DEFINITION A vanguard is defined as the foremost part of an advancing army or navy that leads an attack on an enemy. Wait, how does that fit in within the NHS?

In a healthcare context, it refers to a new model of care designed to improve people’s health and better join up health and social care services.

In 2016, NHS England announced that 50 individual organisations, including CCGs and clinics, had been selected to become vanguard sites.

There are five vanguard types – integrated primary and acute care systems, multi-specialty community providers, enhanced health in care homes, urgent and emergency care, and acute care collaboration.

CUTTING THE CRAP Vanguards are organisations that have implemented new ways of providing care in specific parts of the country.

IS IT USEFUL? Yes, if you are a commander planning a military operation.


2 Super-stranded patient

DEFINITION Ok let’s analyse this one. Does it designate a patient stuck on a plane, a patient with superpowers or a patient on a plane with superpowers?

None of the above. In hospital, the term refers to a patient who occupies a bed for more than 21 days, as opposed to a stranded patient who will have a length of stay of seven days or more.

CUTTING THE CRAP As far as we’re concerned, a patient is a patient, whether they stay in hospital for one night or 21 days. Moreover, the terminology sounds slightly dehumanising.

IS IT USEFUL? Only if your plane is delayed.


3 Running hot

DEFINITION NHS jargon can sound a lot like it’s been taken from daily life situations. So if a tap can run hot, why not a hospital?

Although there is no official definition, healthcare professionals tend to say a hospital is running hot when it is operating at full capacity.

This can include situations where bed occupancy rates are above the recommended 85%, putting patients safety at risk and potentially spreading infections.

CUTTING THE CRAP There are so many other terms that could be used instead: extremely busy, working at full capacity, critical state – pick your favourite.

IS IT USEFUL? Yes, if you like hot showers.



DEFINITION You might wonder, what has food got to do with the healthcare system? Absolutely nothing.

WRAP stands for wellness recovery action plan. The term, which was created by US author Mary Ellen Copeland, denotes a tool that helps people suffering from mental health issues overcome their symptoms and stay well.

CUTTING THE CRAP WRAP is a way by which an ill individual can reflect on their experiences or maintain their wellbeing through activities such as meditation.

IS IT USEFUL? The concept, yes, the acronym, no as it’s got us think about food.


5 Renewable energy

DEFINITION Another term that doesn’t find its place in the language of the NHS.

NHS England’s vision, set out in the Five Year Forward View, is to develop a better healthcare system that works for everybody, partly by fully harnessing the ‘renewable energy represented by patients and communities’.

CUTTING THE CRAP So what does it mean? Good question, we’re still confused ourselves.

But we believe it’s about better utilising community assets to improve the population’s health and wellbeing.

IS IT USEFUL? No, let’s drop the word and replace it with community asset instead.