Content style guide - A to Z of NHS health writing

Words and phrases we use to make our content about health and the NHS easy to understand.

A

A&E

We use "A&E". You do not need to spell out "accident and emergency".

abbreviations

See the guidance on abbreviations and acronyms on the Formatting and punctuation page.

abdomen and abdominal

It's OK to use "abdomen" where people are familiar with this term. For example, we know that pregnant women talk about "abdominal pain".

If users may not be familiar with "abdomen" but are likely to hear their GP or another health professional use this word, we may add "abdomen" after "tummy". For example, "a dull ache in your tummy (abdomen)".

absorb

We use "take in".

accessibility

Follow our accessibility guidance.

acronyms

See the guidance on abbreviations and acronyms on the Formatting and punctuation page.

acute

We prefer "sudden", "starts suddenly", "in a short period of time" or, where appropriate, "short-term".

We do use "acute" in the names of conditions like "acute lymphoblastic leukaemia". We also use it if our search analytics, user testing or survey feedback suggest that people will hear their doctor use the word "acute" or will search for it. If we use it, we explain what it means.

affects

It's alright to use "affects" but in some contexts, for example with medicines, it can be better to say that "something changes the way something else works".

Check a dictionary if you're not sure of the difference between "affect" and "effect".

age

Find out how we talk about age in the Inclusive content section.

ageing

Not "aging".

alternative

We generally use "different" or "other".

An exception is "complementary and alternative medicines".

Alzheimer's disease

We capitalise the names of conditions that start with a proper name, like Alzheimer's disease. Note the apostrophe.

ampersand (&)

Avoid using an ampersand, except in "A&E". Use "and" instead.

anonymised, anonymisation

We prefer not to use these words.

Instead we might explain what anonymisation means and talk about information that has personal details removed. We might give examples, like "When we share your information with another organisation, we take out all personal details, such as your name and address."

Depending on your audience and the context, for example in a cookie banner, you might not need this much detail. A short, simple explanation might do.

antenatal

One word without a hyphen.

anus

We prefer "bottom" (as in "bleeding from your bottom") to "anus" or "rectum".

You can add "anus" in brackets after "bottom". For example, in "enlarged blood vessels found inside or around the bottom (anus)".

Or you can use "anus" on its own when you need to be more precise, for example when you're talking about anal cancer.

User testing showed that people understand "bottom" better than "anus". They do search for "anus" in Google, however.

apply

If we are talking about a medicine, we prefer "use", "put on" or "rub in".

apostrophes

See the guidance on apostrophes on the Formatting and punctuation page.

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B

baby

We use "baby" or "your baby" (not "unborn baby") in pregnancy content, from the early stages of pregnancy to birth and during the baby's first year. "Baby" is simpler than "embryo" or "foetus".

For example, in our medicines content, we talk about how medicines can "affect you and your baby in pregnancy".

The words we use depend on the context, however. In content about an unwanted pregnancy or abortion, for example, we use "pregnancy" and "ending the pregnancy". Test with users to make sure that the words you use are right for their circumstances.

back passage

We do not use "back passage". Instead we use "bottom", "anus" or, rarely, "rectum".

bacteria

People often are not interested in the kind of bacteria that caused their problem. They want to know what to do about it. Only mention the name of the bacteria (full or short name) if your audience (users) need it.

If you give the full Latin name of a bacterium, capitalise the first word, for example, "Staphylococcus aureus" but put the shortened "staphylococcus" in lower case.

Do not use italics.

BAME

Use "ethnic minorities", not "BAME" or "BME".

Find out how we talk about ethnicity, religion and nationality in the Inclusive content section.

baseline

One word.

Black or black

Use a capital letter when you're writing about ethnicity or when you're asking users for their ethnic group.

Use lower case when you're writing about skin colour.

Examples:

  • "Black, Asian, African, Black British or Caribbean"
  • "On white skin the rash can appear red, but on brown and black skin the rash may be harder to see."

black skin

We talk about skin colour clearly and use terms that are easy to understand, including "brown and black skin". We do not refer to brown or black skin as "dark" or "darker".

See the guidance on skin symptoms in the Inclusive content section.

BME

Use "ethnic minorities", not "BAME" or "BME".

Find out how we talk about ethnicity, religion and nationality in the Inclusive content section.

bold

See the guidance on how we use bold on the Formatting and punctuation page.

booster

A booster is a dose of a vaccine that increases or renews the effect of a vaccine you had earlier.

Explain in more detail the 1st time you mention it, for example "a booster dose of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine". Then you can refer to it as a "booster" or "booster dose".

bottle feeding

Two words.

bottom

We prefer the word "bottom" (in phrases like "bleeding from your bottom") to "anus" or "rectum".

User testing showed that people understand "bottom" better than "anus".

bowel movement

See poo.

Braille

Starts with a capital letter.

breast milk

Two words.

breastfeeding

One word.

brown skin

We talk about skin colour clearly and use terms that are easy to understand, including "brown and black skin". We do not refer to brown or black skin as "dark" or "darker".

See the guidance on skin symptoms in the Inclusive content section.

BSE

See CJD.

bullet points

Find out how we use bullet points in the guidance on lists on the Formatting and punctuation page.

bum

We prefer "bottom" (in phrases like "bleeding from your bottom").

burp

We use "burp" and "burping". We also use "wind".

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C

caesarean

Lower case.

calories (kcal)

See calories on our Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

can't or cannot

We use "cannot" instead of "can't".

Read why in the contractions section.

capital letters

See the guidance on capitalisation on the Formatting and punctuation page.

carer

We use "carer" when we're talking about a family member or friend who cares for someone but is not paid for this.

We use "paid carer" for a carer who works for social services or another agency. A paid carer can help with personal care, for example getting washed and dressed.

We do not use "care worker" because we found that it is ambiguous.

Compare "carer" and "home help".

cervical screening

We prefer the term "cervical screening" to "smear test". But we add "smear test" in brackets the first time we mention cervical screening.

"Smear test" is a dated term and the cervical screening programme no longer uses it. The invitation and results letters use "cervical screening" and our content reflects that.

We've seen anecdotal evidence from Public Health England, cervical screening service providers and smear takers that some users find the word "smear" off-putting.

chemist

We use "pharmacy", not "chemist". Our users are more likely to look for the word "pharmacy".

chronic

We prefer "for a long time" or "does not go away".

We have seen evidence that the word "chronic" confuses people. Some people think it means "bad" or "serious".

We do use "chronic" in the names of conditions like "chronic fatigue syndrome". We also use it if our search analytics, user testing or survey feedback suggest that people will hear their doctor use the word "chronic" or will search for it. If we use it, we explain what "chronic" means.

CJD

We use "CJD" – or "variant CJD (vCJD)" as the human form of BSE.

Use full name "Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" when you first mention CJD.

We do not use "mad cow disease" or "BSE".

clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)

CCGs were replaced by integrated care boards (ICBs) in July 2022.

clinical systems

See GP system supplier names and patient-facing services.

condition

We use "condition", "problem" or "illness".

We avoid words like "disease" and "disorder" as they can sound negative. But we do use these words in the names of specific diseases or disorders, like Alzheimer's disease or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or terms like "tropical diseases".

Find out how we talk about disabilities and conditions in the Inclusive content section.

continuing healthcare

Lower case and "healthcare" is one word.

We explain NHS continuing healthcare on the NHS website.

contractions

To find out how we use contractions, like "we're" and "don't", see the guidance on contractions on the Formatting and punctuation page.

coronavirus (COVID-19)

Follow the coronavirus (COVID-19) A to Z on GOV.UK.

CT scan

You do not need to spell it out. The abbreviation is fine.

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D

dashes

See the guidance on hyphens and dashes on the Formatting and punctuation page.

dates

See our guidance on dates on the Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

Deaf people

If you're creating content for or about people who are Deaf and use British Sign Language to communicate, bear in mind that their needs will be different from those of people who have a hearing loss or tinnitus.

We use a capital D when we're talking to or about people who are Deaf and use British Sign Language to communicate because many Deaf people prefer it.

We recognise that this doesn't apply to everyone who comes to the NHS for information about deafness and so, as always, we check with the people we're creating content for how they want to be described.

deafness

We use "deafness" (with a lower case d) in our health content when we're writing about it, for example, as a symptom. But we prefer the term "hearing loss".

death

Be direct wherever possible.

Say "death" instead of:

  • "fatality"
  • "passing"

We do not use "loss" and "bereavement" as euphemisms for death. We do use them when we are talking about feelings of loss or grieving in our mental health content.

Say "died" instead of:

  • "passed away"
  • "deceased"

We do not recommend this language in cases of miscarriage or abortion, however. We are working on guidance on this.

degrees (temperature)

We use C for centigrade or Celsius – for example, 38C or −4C. Do not include the degree symbol (°).

We are no longer including references to Fahrenheit.

Also see fever and temperature.

diabetic

We do not talk about people as "diabetic". We say they have diabetes.

We do use "diabetic" in phrases like "diabetic eye screening".

Find out how we talk about disabilities and conditions in the Inclusive content section.

dietitian

Not dietician.

disabilities

We use positive language to talk about disabilities. Read more about how we talk about disabilities and conditions in our Inclusive content section.

disease

See condition.

diuretics

We do not call them "water tablets". We explain that diuretics are "tablets that make you pee more".

DNA

It's OK to use the abbreviation.

doctor

We mostly use "GP". We use "doctor" when someone might see a GP, a specialist or consultant in a surgery, hospital or clinic setting. We also use "doctor" when we're writing about healthcare abroad.

We use "your doctor" when we're writing about follow-up or ongoing care with a health professional, for example, when a doctor is prescribing and monitoring medicine.

We use phrases like:

  • "talk with your doctor"
  • "follow your doctor's instructions"

Also see "specialist".

don't or do not

We use "do not" instead of "don't".

Read why in the contractions section.

We use "Don't" in headings for Do and Don't lists. But we use "do not" for the commands in the list.

dosage

See dosage on our Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

drowsy

Generally, we prefer the word "sleepy" to "drowsy" as people are more likely to search for "sleepy". But "drowsy" may be better if you're writing about feeling unusually sleepy in the daytime, particularly in the context of medicines.

In information about medicines, for example antihistamines, we prefer the terms:

  • "drowsy (sedating)" to describe a medicine because these are the words people search for and see or hear in a GP or pharmacy setting
  • "feeling sleepy (drowsy)" to describe a side effect

drugs

We use "medicines".

We only use "drugs" for illegal drugs.

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E

eardrop, eardrum, earlobe, earwax

All of them one word.

eg

eg can sometimes be read aloud as "egg" by screen readers. We prefer "for example" or "such as" or "like" or "including" – whichever works best.

epileptic

We do not talk about people as "epileptics". We say they have epilepsy.

Find out how we talk about conditions in the Inclusive content section.

equivalent

We use "equal to".

etc

Avoid etc. Try using "for example" or "such as" or "like" or "including" instead.

ethnic minorities

Use "ethnic minorities", not "BAME" or "BME".

ethnicity

Use "ethnicity", not "race".

Find out how we talk about ethnicity, religion and nationality in the Inclusive content section.

exceed

We use "more than".

excessive

We use "too much".

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F

5 A Day

Note the number and capital letters. This is the campaign which encourages people to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

faeces

See poo.

Fahrenheit

We are taking references to Fahrenheit out of our content and just using Celsius. This is because healthcare professionals in the UK use Celsius. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also uses it and we refer to NICE for evidence-based guidance.

Celsius has been the official temperature scale in the UK since 1965.

Giving 2 different temperatures can confuse people who may be anxious or unwell. It's easier to have just one number to tell your GP.

fart

We use "fart" and "farting" when we're talking about symptoms. People understand "fart" better than "passing wind" or "flatulence".

We use "wind" for "trapped wind" or bloating.

fever

We prefer the words "high temperature" to "fever", for example in a list of symptoms. Our user research shows that "fever" is not a well understood word.

But we still use it when we're writing specifically about fever or different types of fever (such as scarlet fever).

fit

See seizure or fit.

flatulence

We prefer "farting" to "flatulence".

We only use "flatulence" when we need to for clinical content (for example, in a health information page about flatulence). We explain that flatulence is the same as wind or farting.

flu

Not "influenza". No apostrophe.

flu jab or flu vaccine

We sometimes use "flu jab" for adults, because people search for this. But we use "flu vaccine" for children. (The child vaccine is a spray.)

People who are looking for information about flu vaccination in pregnancy search for "jab".

For the annual flu vaccination programme, we use the term "flu vaccine" as that covers children and adults.

foetus

We do not commonly use "foetus", except in the names of conditions like "foetal alcohol syndrome". We prefer "baby".

food pipe

We use "food pipe", not "gullet".

foot and mouth disease

Lower case.

formula

We use "formula" or "baby formula", not "infant formula".

formulations

Rather than talking about different medicines formulations, we talk about "different types" (for example, of hydrocortisone) or "different ways" of using a medicine.

foundation trust

Lower case, unless you are giving the full name of a foundation trust. For example: Anytown NHS Foundation Trust.

fractions

See our guidance on fractions on the Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

full stops

See the guidance on full stops on the Formatting and punctuation page.

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G

gas

We do not use "gas". Instead we talk about "wind", "burping" or "farting".

gender

Find out how we talk about gender in the Inclusive content section.

GP

We mostly use "GP". We use "doctor", where someone may see either a GP or another health professional like a specialist or consultant in a surgery, hospital or clinic setting. We also use "doctor" when we're writing about healthcare abroad.

a GP

We use "a GP" (rather than "your GP") when we're advising people to get medical advice, care or treatment, for example in a care card. (Find out more about helping users decide when and where to get care, with care cards.) This is particularly important when the user may need urgent care or to act out of hours.

Not all users are registered with a GP or have a regular GP. We use "a GP" to emphasise that users should get help and that it doesn't matter which GP they see.

Once we've used "a GP", we follow up with "the GP". For example: "Talk to a GP about your condition. The GP might suggest...".

your GP

We use "your GP" when the user is likely to be under a GP's ongoing care, for example, for a condition like diabetes or in the context of follow-up care.

We also use "your GP" rather than "a GP" in a transactional journey, such as NHS 111 online, where we have information about the user and we are referring them to their GP during office hours.

GP online services

We use "GP online services" as the collective term for online services like appointment booking, repeat prescription orders and medical record access.

Or you can use "GP surgery's online services" if this is clearer for your users.

See also GP system supplier names and patient-facing services.

GP surgery

When we're writing for the public, we use "GP surgery" or "surgery" rather than "practice", because our research shows us that this is the word patients are more likely to search for and use.

When we're writing for healthcare staff, we may use the term "GP practice" or "practice" for short. For example, for "practice managers".

Note that a GP practice can have more than 1 surgery.

GP system supplier names and patient-facing services

Users often do not recognise the name of GP systems in isolation from their patient-facing services.

Usability testing by the NHS App team showed that:

  • users recognise "Patient Access" but often do not recognise the name of the supplier "EMIS"
  • they recognise "SystmOnline" but often do not recognise the name of the supplier "TPP"

For patients, when referring to the GP system we say:

  • EMIS (Patient Access)
  • TPP (SystmOnline)
  • Vision (Patient Services)

For patients, when referring to the patient-facing service of a GP system, it's OK not to include the supplier name. For example:

  • Patient Access
  • SystmOnline
  • Patient Services

For healthcare staff, it's OK to refer to the system name of the GP supplier if appropriate. For example:

  • EMIS or EMIS Web
  • TPP or TPP SystmOne
  • Vision or Vision 3

See also GP online services.

gullet

We use "food pipe".

GUM clinic

GUM is short for genito-urinary medicine.

We use sexual health clinic.

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H

haemorrhage

We often use the words "a very heavy bleed" instead of "haemorrhage".

If you need to use the word "haemorrhage", for example, in the name of a condition like a subarachnoid haemorrhage, explain what it is.

health record

We use "health record" rather than "medical record". "Health record" is more accurate as someone's record may cover social care as well as medical content. In our user research, we haven’t seen anyone confused by "health record". People see it as the same as a "medical record".

In some contexts, for example in forms, rather than asking about someone's "health record", we ask about "your health, and any health problems or treatments you've had in the past".

healthcare

One word.

hearing loss

If you're creating content for people who have a hearing loss, bear in mind that their needs may be different from those of people who are Deaf and people who have tinnitus.

home help

A home help helps with domestic tasks like cleaning and doing the laundry. Compare this with a "carer".

homeless

We do not say "the homeless" or "homeless people". We prefer to talk about "people who are homeless".

hyphens

See the guidance on hyphens and dashes on the Formatting and punctuation page.

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I

ID

Use ID without full stops.

This is fine for most screen readers.

ie

We try not to use "ie" (which means "that is" or "that means"). You can usually write your sentence in another way.

immunisation

Only use "immunisation" in the names of organisations or programmes. For example, the Public Health England (PHE) immunisation programme or Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

We use "vaccination" otherwise.

imperial measurements

See the guidance on metric and imperial measurements on the Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

inclusive content

See the Inclusive content section of the style guide.

incurable

We avoid "incurable". Instead we say "cannot be cured".

injection

You can use "injection" or "jab" for the injection of vaccine.

inpatient

One word. Like outpatient.

integrated care boards (ICBs)

Lower case when spelt out in full, except when you are referring to a particular ICB. For example: Anytown Integrated Care Board.

We treat integrated care systems (ICSs) and integrated care partnerships (ICPs) the same way.

interaction

For medicines, we say "it does not mix with".

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J

jab

We use "vaccine", not "jab", for the dose people get in their vaccination.

For example:

  • 6‑in‑1 vaccine
  • coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine
  • HPV vaccine

It's OK to use "injection" if a substance or medicine is injected.

Research shows that "jab" can make people who are scared of needles more anxious.

If "jab" is a popular search term for your content (for example, "flu jab"), call it the "flu vaccine" but add "sometimes called the flu jab". Do this in the body content and the meta description.

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K

kidney

We use "kidney" instead of "renal".

We may mention "renal" as well as "kidney" if our search analytics, user testing or survey feedback suggest that people will hear their doctor use "renal" or will search for it.

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L

licensed for

For medicines, we say "can be used for" or is or isn't "officially approved for".

lifelong

One word.

Read our guidance on how we handle website links.

lip-reading

With a hyphen.

lists

See the guidance on lists on the Formatting and punctuation page.

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M

mad cow disease

We use "CJD".

measurements

See the section on measurements on the Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

medical record

We prefer "health record".

medication

We use "medicine".

medicine

We use "medicine", not "medication".

mental health

See the section on mental health on the disabilities and conditions page.

metric measurements

See the guidance on metric and imperial measurements on the Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

microgram

Write "microgram" in full. Do not shorten it to "mcg".

It helps to explain that a microgram is 1,000 times smaller than a milligram (mg).

We only use the microgram symbol (μg) if people will find it helpful, for example, if they will see it on their medicines or vitamins packet. In cases like these, we add the following when we first mention micrograms: "The word microgram is sometimes written with the Greek symbol μ followed by the letter g (μg)." We explain that it's a Greek symbol so that people who use screen readers understand it when they hear an unexpected sound.

We do not use μg as an abbreviation in text that follows.

milk

In "cows' milk" and "goats' milk", the apostrophe comes after the "s".

In "sheep's milk", the apostrophe comes before the "s", because "sheep" is plural.

We write "breast milk" as two words.

morning after pill

Lower case without hyphens. It can be "emergency contraception".

MRI scan

The abbreviation is fine.

mucus and mucous

"Mucus" is a noun. "Mucous" is an adjective.

Example

If you have allergic rhinitis, the inside layer of your nose (the mucous membrane) may become swollen and you may produce a lot of mucus.

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N

nationality

Find out how we talk about ethnicity, religion and nationality in the Inclusive content section.

nausea

We prefer "feeling sick". You may want to put "nausea" in brackets afterwards: feeling sick (nausea).

NHS

We do not usually spell out "National Health Service". It's fine to use the abbreviation.

We refer to it as "the NHS", unless we're using NHS as an adjective, for example "NHS services".

NHS 111 online

On the NHS website and in national digital services, say "Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111" if it's a call to action.

In content that explains the service, for example policy or programme content, use "NHS 111 online". Include the word NHS and give online a small "o".

NHS 111 online is not for children under 5. Do not direct users to 111.nhs.uk if the call to action is only about young children.

NHS App

With an upper case A. It's the name of a specific app.

To avoid repetition of "NHS App", you can use "the app" where needed, for example "You can also order repeat prescriptions in the app".

When referring to something inside the NHS App, use "in" the app, not "on" or "with" the app. For example, "You can get health advice in the NHS App".

When advising users about the browser version of the NHS App, we say: "You can also access NHS App services from the browser on your desktop or laptop computer".

Find out more about the NHS App.

NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI)

The full name of the organisation is NHS England and NHS Improvement. The abbreviation is NHSEI.

NHS login

We write "login" in lower case and as one word. The NHS login lets people see their personal health information online.

NHS number

Write the NHS number as 3 groups of numbers, with a single space between them, like this: 485 777 3456. (This is an example or test number.)

The format is 3 3 4: 2 groups of 3 digits followed by 4 digits.

Make sure that you:

  • use this format whenever you include an example or include an NHS number
  • keep the NHS number on 1 line - do not allow it to break over 2 lines
  • only use a space as a separator - do not use dashes or dots
  • do not use a real NHS number as an example - use 485 777 3456 or 123 456 7890

This number format makes it easier for people and assistive technologies to read. It also makes it less likely that people will make mistakes.

Ask your frontend or coding colleagues how to stop the NHS number breaking over 2 lines.

See our design pattern for asking users for their NHS number.

NHS Test and Trace

NHS Test and Trace is the NHS service that tests people for coronavirus, traces contacts and manages local outbreaks.

NHS website

Lower case "website". The NHS website is the website at nhs.uk.

nhs.uk and NHS.UK

When we're referring to the website at nhs.uk, we call it "the NHS website". We give the url in lower case.

If we're talking about NHS.UK as a programme in NHS Digital, we use capital letters.

NHSX

We no longer use NHSX. It is now part of the Transformation Directorate at NHS England.

normally

We use "usually".

"Normally" in a health context can make people feel they are not "normal".

numbered lists

Find out how we use numbered lists in the guidance on lists on the Formatting and punctuation page.

numbers

See our guidance on numbers, measurements, dates and time.

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O

occur

Avoid "occur". Try other words, like "happen", or reword your sentence.

For example: instead of "Symptoms only occur in children under the age of 2", we say: "Only children under the age of 2 get symptoms".

OK

It's OK to use OK.

We've tested it on screen readers and it reads out OK.

online services

See GP system supplier names and patient-facing services.

oral

We use the word "mouth". For example, we say "mouth cancer" rather than "oral cancer".

If we're talking about taking medicines, we say "by mouth" or "that you swallow".

oral contraceptives

We use "contraceptive pills".

organisations

We use a singular verb for an organisation. For example: "The NHS in England deals with over 1 million patients every 36 hours." Or "The World Health Organization says …".

We use the pronoun "it" for the NHS.

Organisations do not do things. The people in organisations do. So we say: "Tell hospital staff in advance if you can’t attend your appointment and they will try to arrange a new one", rather than "… the hospital will arrange a new one".

outpatient

One word. Like inpatient.

over the counter or OTC

We say "medicine you buy (from a pharmacy or shop)".

We put pharmacies first, ahead of supermarkets and shops.

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P

passing wind

We do not use "passing wind". People understand "fart" better.

patients

See "people or patients".

PDFs

See our guidance on PDFs and other non-HTML documents.

pee

We use the nouns "pee" and "urine". We know that everyone can understand "pee", including people who find reading difficult. Most people also understand and search for "urine", for example in phrases like "blood in urine".

We do not use "wee" because it can confuse people who use voice technologies or screen readers.

We use "pee" for the verb, not "urinate" or "pass urine". We know that the people who use NHS digital services talk about and search for "peeing more often" and "peeing at night".

people or patients

Generally, we address people as "you".

If we're writing in the third person, we mostly use "people" but this varies depending on the context. "People" is a broad term which covers patients, carers, their family and friends.

We prefer "people" for content aimed at the general public but we sometimes use "patients" if the word "people" might be confusing, for example, where we need to distinguish patients from the general public.

"Patients" may also be more suitable in content for health professionals.

percentages

See our guidance on fractions and percentages on the Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

persist

We use "carry on" or "keep going".

personal child health record (red book)

All lower case. We include the phrase "red book" in brackets the first time we mention "personal child health record". Then we usually call it the "red book" after the first mention.

Also see health record.

pharmacy

We use "pharmacy", not "chemist". Our users are more likely to look for the word "pharmacy".

phone and phone numbers

We use "phone" rather than "telephone" for mobile and landline phones. Use phone: 011 111 111 or mobile:. Do not use mob:.

Use spaces between city and local exchange. Here are the different formats to use:

  • 01273 800 900
  • 020 7450 4000
  • 0800 890 567
  • 07771 900 900
  • 077718 300 300
  • +44 (0)20 7450 4000
  • +39 1 33 45 70 90

When an organisation has chosen a memorable number, for example for a campaign, group the numbers into easily remembered units. An example is the number for the Samaritans: 116 123.

We prefer to use "call" or "phone", not "ring" or "dial". Survey responses show that users are more likely to use "call" or "phone".

PMS (premenstrual syndrome)

We prefer "PMS" instead of "premenstrual syndrome". PMS is a commonly understood term and it is used more often than "premenstrual syndrome". But we should write it as "PMS (premenstrual syndrome)" at the first mention to make it clear what PMS stands for.

We do not say "premenstrual tension" or "PMT" as these terms are more dated and users do not search for these as much as PMS.

poo

We mostly use "poo", rather than "stool". We know that everyone can understand "poo", including people who find reading difficult.

We do not use "opening your bowels" or "bowel movements".

We sometimes use the words "stool" or "bowel" when people will hear their GP use them. But we will explain the term or phrase. For example:

  • "a sample of poo (stool sample)"
  • "Bowel incontinence can affect people in different ways. You may have a problem if you have sudden urges to poo that you can't control."

positive

If you use the word "positive" in the context of test results, be aware that some users may interpret it as positive news. In other words, they may think they do not have the disease or condition.

If you have to use "positive", because this is the word people will hear when they get their test results, explain what it means.

Example: "A positive result means it's likely you had coronavirus (COVID-19) when the test was done."

practice

"Practice" is the noun, as in "GP practice". "Practise" is a verb. For example: "Practise pelvic floor exercises".

When we're writing for the public, we use "surgery" rather than "practice", because our research shows us that this is the word patients are more likely to search for and use.

When we're writing for healthcare staff, we may use the word "practice". For example, for "practice managers".

Note that a GP practice can have more than 1 surgery.

pre-school

With a hyphen.

preconception care

We prefer "planning your pregnancy" or "thinking about your health before you get pregnant" or just "getting pregnant". This is the kind of language our users use.

Clinicians sometimes use "preconception care" when they're talking about women who need special care before they get pregnant - for example, changes to their medicine. We do not use "preconception care" as a topic. Instead we give specific advice where people need it, for example: "Talk to your doctor if you want to get pregnant. It's best to stop taking [name of medicine] at least 3 months before you start trying for a baby."

premenstrual syndrome

See "PMS (premenstrual syndrome)".

prognosis

We prefer "outlook".

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R

race

Use "ethnicity", not "race".

Find out how we talk about ethnicity, religion and nationality in the Inclusive content section.

radiographer or radiologist

Radiographers take X-rays. Radiologists read them.

rectum

We prefer "bottom" or "anus". Only use "rectum" when the other alternatives are not clear enough, for example when talking about surgery to remove part of the rectum.

We found that people do not search for "rectum" in Google as much as other terms.

red book

See personal child health record (red book).

redness

Redness is often mentioned as a symptom of health problems such as skin conditions, infections, and allergies. But this may be based on how the symptom appears on white skin.

When you mention redness in content, always consider whether the description is accurate for all skin tones. A symptom that looks red when it appears on white skin may not look red on skin that's brown or black.

See the guidance on skin symptoms in the Inclusive content section.

reduce pain

We say "help with pain" or "ease the pain".

reduced kidney function

We say "kidneys that do not work well".

religion

Find out how we talk about ethnicity, religion and nationality in the Inclusive content section.

renal

We prefer "kidney".

We may mention "renal" as well as "kidney" if our search analytics, user testing or survey feedback suggest that people will hear their doctor use "renal" or will search for it.

risk and risk factors

We prefer "chance" to "risk" when we're writing for the public.

We try not to talk about "risk factors" and instead explain them some other way.

We do use "risk" and "risk factors" when we are writing for a more specialist audience.

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S

safe and safer

Beware of saying "safe drinking" or "safe sex".

It's hard to know what is really "safe" so we talk about "safer sex" or "safer drinking". That suggests that people can lower but not necessarily get rid of the risk altogether.

safety precaution

We say "for safety".

sedating

See "drowsy".

seek

We say "ask for".

seizure or fit

We add the word "fit" after "seizure" ("seizure or fit") in content about epilepsy, brain cancer and brain tumours. We know that "seizure" is the word that people with epilepsy use, understand and generally prefer and that it's not the same as a "fit" (which is a kind of seizure that makes the body jerk and shake uncontrollably). But some of our users do not understand the word "seizure" and including the word "fit" when we first mention seizures helps them.

In general content, for example, with medicines that might make people jerk and shake uncontrollably as a side effect, we use the term "seizure or fit" and explain that this is what we mean.

service user

We prefer "people" or "patients" - or in social services "people who use services".

setting

We avoid the term "hospital setting". We just say "in hospital".

Instead of "community setting", we mention the place, for example, "in school", "in a clinic" or "at home".

sex and sexuality

Find out how we talk about sex, gender and sexuality in the Inclusive content section.

sex assigned or registered at birth

We use the phrase "sex assigned at birth" when we're talking about trans health and gender dysphoria, as this is the language our audience uses. In other cases, we use "the sex someone was registered with at birth" because user research shows that most people understand this better as it refers to an actual event.

sexual health clinic

We use "sexual health clinic", not "STI clinic".

Sexual health clinics can offer different services. So, when we mention them for the first time and are talking about STIs, we sometimes add that they may also be called "GUM clinics".

When we are talking about contraception, we sometimes add that they may also be called "family planning or contraception clinics".

Also see "STI".

sick

We use "feeling sick" instead of "nausea", but you may want to put "nausea" in brackets afterwards: feeling sick (nausea).

We use "being sick" instead of "vomiting". Again, you may want to put "vomiting" in brackets afterwards: being sick (vomiting).

We use "vomiting" in phrases like "vomiting blood".

We use "vomit" as the noun. For example, "blood in your vomit".

side effects

Two words.

We say that people may "get" or "have" side effects, not "develop" or "experience" them.

Check a dictionary if you're not sure of the difference between "affect" and "effect".

site map

We write "site map" as 2 words so that screen readers pronounce it clearly.

sleepy

Generally, we prefer the word "sleepy" to "drowsy" as people are more likely to search for "sleepy". But "drowsy" may be better if you're writing about feeling unusually sleepy in the daytime, particularly in the context of medicines.

skin colour changes

When you mention a change in skin colour, such as a red rash, redness with swelling, or skin turning yellow or blue, always consider whether the change will look the same on all skin tones.

See the guidance on skin symptoms in the Inclusive content section.

smear test

We prefer "cervical screening".

specialist

We generally use the word "specialist" for consultants and other specialist medical professions. For example, we use "a heart specialist" instead of "a cardiologist".

Also see "doctor".

statistics

See our guidance on statistics on the Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

STI

You might want to spell out "sexually transmitted infection" the first time you mention it. Otherwise it’s fine to use the abbreviation STI.

We talk about "a" sexually transmitted infection but "an" STI.

We do not use the terms "sexually transmitted disease" or "STD".

Also see "sexual health clinic".

stomach

We use "stomach" for the internal organ and in some common phrases like "stomach ache" and "stomach bug".

We sometimes use "tummy" for short, for example in "tummy bug".

Also see "abdomen".

stool

See poo.

suffering from

We do not use "suffering from". We talk about people having or living with a disability or condition.

Read more about how we talk about disabilities and conditions in the Inclusive content section.

summary care record

Lower case.

For a professional audience (people who will know the abbreviation already), it's OK to use SCR after the first mention of a summary care record. (It's "an", not "a", SCR.)

For the public, we avoid the abbreviation. Instead it may be better to say: "your health record" or "a summary of your health record".

surgery

When we're writing for the public, we use "GP surgery" or "surgery" rather than "practice", because our research shows us that this is the word patients are more likely to search for and use.

When we're writing for healthcare staff, we may use the word "practice". For example, for "practice managers".

Note that a practice can have more than 1 surgery.

symptoms

We say that people may "get" or "have" symptoms, not "develop" or "experience" them.

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T

telephone and telephone numbers

See "phone and phone numbers".

temperature

We avoid giving a specific temperature in most cases. This is because it's normal for people's temperature to rise when they are ill or have an infection. How much their temperature changes varies from person to person. So we do not focus on a particular temperature.

In a list of symptoms, we say "a high temperature" or "if your child is feeling hotter than usual if you touch their neck, back or tummy".

When we're telling people to do something about a high temperature in an adult or a child over 6 months old (for example, in the pattern to help users decide when and where to get care, with care cards), we say:

  • "if your temperature is very high, or you feel hot or shivery"
  • "if your child's temperature is very high, or they feel hot or shivery"

The exception is when talking about the temperature of a child under 6 months old. In these cases we state a specific temperature and say:

  • "if your child is under 3 months old and has a temperature of 38C or higher, or you think they have a high temperature"
  • "if your child is 3 to 6 months old and has a temperature of 39C or higher, or you think they have a high temperature"

Also see "degrees (temperature)" and "fever".

terminal

We use "terminal" when a condition or illness is likely to lead to death. We find that people with cancer, for example, often use this word.

time

See our guidance on time on the Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

tranquillise and tranquilliser

Note the double "ll". We use the British spelling with "s", not "z".

trimesters

We mostly use "weeks" when writing about time in pregnancy.

We've found that most users think about their pregnancy in "weeks" or "months", but using "weeks" means we can be more precise.

Trimesters are less clear. If you do use the word "trimester", explain what you mean, for example: "the 1st trimester (up to about 13 weeks)".

We use numerals for numbers, for example "13 weeks", instead of "thirteen weeks".

try to

We prefer "try to" to "try and".

tummy

Some users feel that "tummy" is childish but it can work well in content about children.

It can also be a good alternative to abdomen when you're talking about the outside of the body (a broader area than the stomach).

Also see "abdomen" and "stomach".

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U

unplanned

Use "unplanned' rather than "unwanted" when talking about pregnancy.

urinary tract infections

We use "urinary tract infections (UTIs)", not "water infections".

urine

See pee.

uterus

We prefer "womb".

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V

vaccination

We use "vaccination" for the process or national programme. (We do not say "immunisation programme".)

For example:

  • NHS vaccination schedule
  • flu vaccination programme
  • coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination programme

Most people search for "vaccination", not "immunisation".

"Vaccination" includes injections and oral or nasal spray.

vaccine

We use "vaccine" for the dose people get as part of a vaccination programme.

For example:

  • the 6‑in‑1 vaccine
  • the HPV vaccine
  • you will have the vaccine as an injection in (part of the body)

Use "coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine" on the first mention, then use "COVID-19 vaccine".

Use "coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination" for the vaccination process or programme, then "COVID-19 vaccination".

Example: someone will get the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine as part of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

For the annual flu vaccination programme, use the term "flu vaccine". The child vaccine is a spray, so "flu vaccine" covers children and adults.

See also the entries for booster and jab.

vial

We prefer plain English terms like "plastic tube" or "glass container". If people need to know the word "vial", we might add it in brackets, for example: "plastic tube (vial)".

vomiting

We use "being sick" instead of "vomiting". You may want to put "vomiting" in brackets afterwards: being sick (vomiting).

We use "vomiting" in phrases like "vomiting blood".

We use "vomit" as the noun. For example, "blood in your vomit".

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W

walk-in centre

Not walk in centre or Walk-In Centre (unless it's the name of a particular centre).

water infections

We use "urinary tract infections (UTIs)" instead.

water tablets

We do not use "water tablets". We explain that diuretics are "tablets that make you pee more".

wellbeing

One word.

White or white

Use a capital letter when you're writing about ethnicity or when you're asking users for their ethnic group, for example: "people from a White British background".

Use lower case when you're writing about skin colour.

white skin

We talk about skin colour clearly and use terms that are easy to understand, including "white skin". We do not describe white skin as "fair" or "light".

See the guidance on skin symptoms in the Inclusive content section.

wind

We use "wind" when we're talking about babies. For example, "bringing up wind".

We also use it when we're talking about "trapped wind" or bloating.

We use "burping" too.

Also see "fart".

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X

X-ray

With a capital X.

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Y

you and your

We address users as "you". See the section on voice and tone.

We use "your" for parts of the body, where appropriate. For example: "the cells in your liver".

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Z

zimmer frame

Two words, lower case.

When we talk about "walking frames", we also mention "zimmer frames". We have found that older people are more likely to know them as "zimmer frames".

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Would you like to contribute to this guidance?

Please let us know how this has worked for you and, in particular, if you have research findings to share. This will help us improve it for everyone.

Before you start, you will need a GitHub account. It's an open forum where we collect feedback.

If you have any questions, you can message us on Slack. You will need a Slack account if you do not have one. Or you can contact us by email.

Updated: July 2022