NHS terminology is a craft in itself

Patients are often confused by the language we use  – and it’s no wonder, says Jane Bates

Patients are often confused by the language we use in healthcare – and it's no wonder, says Jane Bates

Picture: iStock

A young friend, pregnant with her first child, was asked by the midwife if she would attend parentcraft classes. I gave you a leaflet, the midwife explained.

‘Oh that!’ my friend said. ‘I put it straight in the bin. Not my kind of thing.’

The midwife, no doubt shocked at this dismissive attitude and making a mental note to flag it up with social services, asked why.

Missing the point

My friend said that she had plenty of people knitting for the baby and, anyway, she wasn’t very good at creative handiwork. When the midwife stopped laughing she explained that it was the ‘craft’ of becoming a parent, not a sewing bee for expectant mothers. 

Well, it did feature a picture of a stork with a blanket, said my friend, embarrassed. And who talks about ‘craft’ in that context anyway? She certainly had a point. The public is constantly misled by NHS terminology.

Another patient was horrified at our bin marked ‘offensive waste’. What is in there exactly?

When a colleague gazed into the eyes of one of our patients, telling her she had a lovely lower fornix, it was no wonder she blushed. How was she to know he was referring to the fold inside her eyelid? 

Another patient was horrified at our bin marked ‘offensive waste’. 'What is in there exactly?' she asked nervously. She imagined it would be full of putrid, gangrenous limbs or the reeking contents of a bedpan.

‘It’s where we put promises from the government about pay and conditions,’ I said. Well I didn’t say it out loud, but I wish I had. ‘Offensive just means that it has the potential to spread disease,’ I explained. ‘Don’t worry, all that goes in ours is the odd blood-stained swab. And the occasional gangrenous limb…’

Poor patients. No wonder people hate hospitals.



Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire 

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