Health glossary

Our health glossary for housing associations provides you with all the useful terms you may need to know. Got a suggestion to be included? Send it to Amy Swan


Acute - In medicine, an acute disease is a disease with a rapid onset and/or a short course.  Acute may be used to distinguish a disease from a chronic (long-term) form, or to highlight the sudden onset of a disease. Acute care is the early and specialist management of adult patients suffering from a wide range of medical conditions requiring urgent or emergency care usually within 48 hours of admission or referral from other specialties. Acute hospitals are those intended for short-term medical and/or surgical treatment and care.

Ambulatory care sensitive conditions - The term “ambulatory care sensitive conditions” is a category of physiological disorders of which severe conditions are considered preventable through medication, home care, and a healthy lifestyle. In this way, occurrences and recurrences of emergency hospitalizations and admissions can also be prevented. There are over 20 disorders that can be classified under ambulatory care sensitive conditions, some of which are cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and hypertension. Other conditions are asthma, chronic urinary tract infections, and gastroenteritis.

Any Qualified Provider (AQP) – AQP may offer services to NHS patients, though the areas of care that are a priority for implementing AQP are decided locally. To qualify, providers must be registered with the CQC and be licensed by Monitor or meet equivalent assurance requirements.

Better Care Fund - The Better Care Fund will provide £3.8 billion to local services to give elderly and vulnerable people an improved health and social system. The guidance provides local areas with the detail they need to complete plans for how they will use their portion of the fund to join up health and care services around the needs of patients, so that people can stay at home more and be in hospital less.

Care Quality Commission (CQC) - The independent regulator of health and adult social care services in England. They monitor the quality and safety of care provided by hospitals, dentists, ambulances, care homes and home-care agencies and protect the interests of vulnerable people, including those whose rights are restricted under the Mental Health Act.

Care Pathways – Care Pathways were developed 20 years ago and are used widely in many areas of healthcare across the world. There is an extensive evidence base for their effectiveness in improving the care provided to patients. Care Pathways aim to improve the continuity and co-ordination of care across different disciplines and sectors. Care Pathways can be viewed as algorithms that offer, in a flow chart format, the decisions to be made and the care to be provided for a patient with a given condition.

Chronic condition - A chronic condition is a human health condition or disease that is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effects. The term chronic is usually applied when the course of the disease lasts for more than three months.

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) – CCGs replaced Primary Care Trusts in the health service re-organistion in 2013. They represent all of the General Practice surgeries in a given geographical area And control around two thirds of the NHS budget.

Community development interventions – Community development interventions are rooted in local communities. They are organised activities that aim to support people and community groups to identify and express their needs across a range of topics, and to take practical, collective action to address them.

Community health services – Community health services provide a wide range of care from supporting people with long-term conditions to treating patients with complex illnesses. They also offer preventive and health improvement services. Community health services include community and specialist nurses, heath visitors and allied health professionals (such as therapist and radiographers).

Continuing healthcare – Continuing healthcare is care provided over an extended period to someone aged 18 or over who requires ongoing care as a result of disability, illness or accident. Where they are assessed as having mainly health needs, the NHS will arrange and fund the complete package, regardless of the setting.

CQUIN – The Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN) payment framework makes art of a provider’s income conditional on quality and innovation. It is intended to ensure contracts include quality improvement plans by allowing commissioners to link to a specific proportion of providers’ contract income to achieving locally agreed goals.

Director of Public Health (DPH) – Since April 2013 each local authority in England has appointed a Director of public health assist them with their new public health functions. The DPH is responsible for promoting, improving and protecting public health and championing health across all areas of local authority activity. They contribute to local health needs assessments and provide advice to NHS colleagues and local Clinical Commissioning Groups on local health priorities.

Efficiency – see QIPP

Elective procedure - An elective procedure is one that is chosen (elected) by the patient or physician that is advantageous to the patient but is not urgent.

House of Care – The House of Care model, developed by the King’s Fund, refers to a whole-system approach to achieving integrated and coordinated care. Using the metaphor of ‘the house’ they place care planning at the centre or heart of the house; the left wall represents the engaged and informed patient; the right wall represents health professionals committed to partnership working; the roof represents organisational systems and processes; and the foundations represent the local commissioning plan.

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies  (IAPT) - The IAPT is a national programme for improving  services and support for people experiencing depression and anxiety disorders. It is based on guidelines developed by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) and includes talking therapies and cognitive behavioural therapy aimed at boosting self-care and recovery.

Integrated care – Integrated care involved health and social care services working together, designing services around individual and community needs and providing person-centered care to facilitate early intervention.

Integration Pioneers – The integration pioneers are 14 sites that have been selected to focus their efforts in different ways and test a range of models in moving towards more coordinated care. Each area varies in its mix, but they are planning, for example: joined up teams in primary and community care; redesigned services that give people a single point of contact; the use of coordinators, key workers or navigators (sometimes drawn from the voluntary sector); a common care record; care planning as the ‘norm’; and the rapid roll-out of personal health budgets.

Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (JSNA) - The Department of Health's describes the JSNA as ‘ a process that identifies current and future health and wellbeing needs in light of existing services and informs future service planning taking into account evidence of effectiveness’. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 requires each local area to produce and publish a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment that identifies the current state of health of the local population with estimates of future needs and priorities for health service intervention and commissioning.

Knowledge and Information Teams (KITs) – The Knowledge and Information Teams established by Public Health England support the development of a strategic approach to knowledge management within public health, and support  the transfer of knowledge and reliable evidence throughout Public Health England, its communities, networks and partners. This knowledge is used in local health needs assessments and to inform health service commissioning. See also Public Health Information Portal.

Life course approaches to health - The life-course approach is a multi-dimensional way of considering health and wellbeing. The life-course approach takes account of  the biological, environmental, psycho-social, economic, demographic and political factors that have an impact (either positive or negative) on health and wellbeing at different life-stages and transition points in personal lives. These include early childhood, adolescence, entering (or leaving) employment, parenthood, changes in health status and entering retirement. The life course approach in health takes account of patterns of accumulated advantage and disadvantage and their impact on individual health, quality of life and opportunity.

Long-term condition - Long term conditions are health conditions that last a year or longer, impact on a person’s life, and may require ongoing care and support. The definition does not relate to any one condition, care-group or age category.

Mandate – The Secretary of State sets NHS England a formal mandate specifying all the Government’s requirements and expectations for the NHS for the next two years. NHS England must produce a business plan to detail how it intends to achieve the mandates objectives. NHS England is also accountable to parliament.

Multimorbidity - Multimorbidity is defined as the co-occurrence of two or more chronic medical conditions in one person.

NHS Numbers – everyone who is registered with the National Health Service in England and Wales is allocated a unique NHS number or personal identifier. This ten digit number is used on all case records to track consultation and treatment history and outcomes. In future it is likely that this number will be shared across social care to provide a more coordinated approach to care planning and information sharing.

NHS Outcomes Framework – The NHS Outcomes Framework provides an overview of how the NHS performs nationally, enabling Government to hold NHS England to account and acting as a catalyst for quality improvement and outcome measurement throughout the NHS.

Outcomes indicator set – The outcomes indicator set (formally known as the Commissioning Outcomes Framework) measures health outcomes and quality of care achieved by CCGs. The indicators enable NHS England to identify CCGs’ contribution to achieving the priorities for health improvement in the NHS Outcomes Framework.

Palliative Care - comfort care given to a patient who has a serious or life-threatening disease, such as cancer, from the time of diagnosis and throughout the course of illness. It is usually provided by a specialist who works with a team of other health care professionals, such as doctors, nurses, registered dieticians, pharmacists, and social workers but may include frontline housing staff as well.

Payment by Results (PbR) – PbR has been gradually introduced to ensure funding follows the patient. The intention is to create a transparent system for paying providers, which encourages activity and keeps waiting times short. Commissioners purchase the volume of activity required for their populations, but instead of block contracts, providers are paid for the activity they undertake.

Personal health budgets – personal health budgets combine funding from different sources to enable someone to make their own decisions about care. They are currently being rolled out to people receiving NHS continuing care.

Primary care – Primary care is normally a patient’s first point of contact with the health service. Primary care provides the key to navigating the rest of the healthcare system and also promotes good health. Primary care providers include GPs, pharmacists, dentists and opticians who all have a role as advocates for patients needing services from other parts of the NHS.

Psychiatric Intensive Care Units (PICU’s)- provide services for people of working age who require intensive care during a period of mental health crisis. Intensive care management is used where this is necessary for the patient’s own safety or that of other people. The care is provided for people who are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.  Admissions are for as short a period of time as is appropriate to the patient’s condition. The PICUs work closely with the acute admission wards, forensic services and the Community Mental Health Teams. 

Public Health England (PHE) -  Established on April 1 2013 to bring together public health specialists from more than 70 organisations, including the former Health Protection Agency (HPA), into a single public health service. PHE works with national and local government, industry, and the NHS, to protect and improve the nation's health and support healthier choices. PHE is addressing inequalities by focusing on removing barriers to good health.

Public Health Information Portal - Developed by Public Health England, the portal provides access to over 100 knowledge and information tools through a single gateway website. The tools serve a range of public health information needs, including the commissioning and planning of services, joint strategic needs assessment, health surveillance, understanding inequalities and variations in health, research and evidence.

Public Information and Evidence (PIE) - The UK Health Forum has launched a new e-Library and associated briefing service called Prevention Information & Evidence (P.I.E.) It contains over 3,000 records including the latest evidence on topics such as nutrition and obesity, physical activity and green space, mental health and well-being, air pollution and fuel poverty.

Quality assurance – In the NHS, quality governance is the combination of structures and processes at and below board level to lead on trust-wide quality performance. Boards and governing bodies should ensure that the organisation is meeting essential standards of care and safety (set by CQC’s requirements).

QIPP  - The QIPP programme (Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention) is intended to ensure the NHS saves £20 billion by 2015.

Reablement - Reablement is a means of promoting independence, providing personal care, help with daily living activities and other practical tasks. Reablement usually lasts for up to 6 weeks during this time service users are encouraged to re-gain and develop the confidence and skills to carry out day to day activities. 

Secondary care - secondary care refers to services provided by health care specialists to patients following a referral from a primary care provider. Secondary care providers usually have a narrow scope of practice in treating specific conditions or providing specific types of care and advice. While some providers of secondary care may accept patients directly, others may work only with patients referred by primary health care workers and doctors.

Self-care – The core principle of self-care is that health and social care staff support people with a long-term condition or health need to stay healthy and live independently by enabling them to access support networks, get involved in planning their own care, sue technology to self-care and help them make informed choices about their health and care.

Social gradient - this reflects an individual's or population group's position class or social economic status in society and the difference in health between the most advantaged and disadvantaged places and population groups .  The lower an individual’s socioeconomic position the worse their health. The social gradient in health reflects differential access to and security of resources such as education, wealth, housing, employment, environmental quality and social support.

Tariff – See ‘Payment by Results’

Targeted intervention – a solution focused approach to tackling a particular health issue by using a methodology that includes identification of the problem, assessment of need, planning and evaluation of the intended outcome. Targeted interventions are usually directed at specific outcome or population group rather than a general population-based approach and they are based on robust evidence based knowledge of ‘what works’.

Urgent and emergency care – The system for delivering urgent and emergency care includes: community pharmacy and self-care; GP services; walk-in centers; minor injuries units; ambulance services; accident and emergency departments; critical care services.

Useful resources

NHS Confederation, The Concise NHS Handbook (2013): The essential guide to the new NHS in England