Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Patient Information: Welcome

Read this page in: Bengali/Sylheti , Farsi , Mandarin Chinese , Portuguese , Urdu

1. Welcome

This section of the Ethnicity Online website is intended to answer some of the questions you might have about healthcare in the UK and how you can access healthcare services.

This information has been translated into several languages (Bengali/Sylheti, Farsi, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese and Urdu).

If you would like to know more about healthcare in the UK, you can call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. NHS Direct has access to Language Line, and can use the services of an interpreter to give you information and advice in your own language.

The National Health Service (NHS)

Over 56 years ago, the UK Government set up the National Health Service to provide free healthcare to all UK residents. People in work contributed a small amount of money from their salary (through their income tax) and this money was used to build hospitals, train and pay nurses and doctors and develop new services and technologies. Today, the NHS is one of the biggest employers in the UK, and treats millions of people every year.

Your first contact with the NHS is likely to be through your family doctor, also known as a General Practitioner or a GP. Except for emergency and specialised treatment, all medical care in the UK is provided by GP doctors.


Clinic – clinic can be used to describe the office of a GP doctor. It can also be used specifically to refer to the area of a hospital where you will see a consultant ('I had to go to the baby clinic to see the midwife').

Consultant – a doctor who has additional training and experience, and is a specialist in a particular medical condition or area of medicine. Consultants usually work in hospitals, and you will usually be referred to them by your GP.

DOB or date of birth – this is the date that you were born (according to the calendar used in the UK).

Doctor – a general name for a person trained in medicine. In everyday conversation, 'doctor' usually refers to a GP or family doctor ('I'm off to see the doctor' or 'I have a doctor's appointment at 11 o'clock').

GP or General Practitioner – a doctor who has been trained for at least ten years to spot signs of disease and illness in their patients, give advice about staying healthy and give out medicines. Your GP or doctor is the first person to call on when you feel ill.

GP referral – if your doctor cannot determine what is wrong with you, or is not able to cure you themselves, they will refer you to a more specialised doctor or consultant. This process is known as GP referral.

Health visitor – a health visitor is a nurse who has been specially trained to go out into the local community and educate people about their health. They run many clinics, such as those for babies, mothers, children and diabetics. They may visit you in your house to make sure you are healthy, or to bring you information about your health.

Inpatient – if you need to be admitted to hospital for tests or treatment, you are a patient in hospital, or an inpatient. Your family and friends will be able to visit you, but you will have to stay on a ward until the consultant sends you home.

Midwife – a trained professional who cares for pregnant women, attends the birth and runs clinics where the health of newborn babies is checked. A midwife may visit women at home during their pregnancy and after the birth to make sure both mother and baby are healthy.

NHS or the National Health Service – the nationwide organisation that is responsible for providing free healthcare in the UK.

Outpatient – some medical conditions can be treated during a short visit to the hospital to see a specialist or consultant. You will probably have an appointment to see a consultant at a special clinic. These clinics, where people are treated but do not need to stay overnight in hospital, are called outpatient clinics. You are an outpatient.

Prescription – a prescription is a form from your doctor that lists the medicines they think you need to take. It is redeemed at a chemists' shop, where they will ask you to sign the form and give you the medicines. You may need to pay a fixed sum (the prescription charge) for your medicines.

Primary Care Trust or PCT – this is an organisation of family doctors, community nurses and other healthcare professionals who are your initial contact with the NHS. They arrange services for patients within the local community and may refer you to the local hospital.

Surgery – surgery can be either a general term for an operation (where part of the body is cut open so that doctors can mend something inside) or an informal term for the office of a GP doctor. A GP's surgery may also be called a 'practice', or referred to as going to 'the doctor's'.

How do I find an interpreter?

In the UK, you have a right to access information and services including those provided by the NHS. If you feel that you cannot do this because you do not speak English, you are entitled to use interpretation and translation services.

You can find out more about the services offered in your area by asking the local council, your local doctor or the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) in your nearest hospital. You can also contact the Institute of Linguists, which holds a database of all the professional qualified interpreters in the UK.

Institute of Linguist's 'Find an interpreter' page

The National Register of Public Service Interpreters

Further details about working with translators and interpreters can be found in our 'Translation and interpretation' section.

CINTRA – the Cambridgeshire Interpretation and Translation Agency

In some areas, local councils and NHS Trusts have joined together to set up interpretation and translation services for their local communities. The services are provided to patients free of charge.

The Ethnicity Online team are delighted to be working with a service in Cambridgeshire that was set up in this way, and has provided us with all of the translated material on the website.

Called CINTRA (the Cambridgeshire Interpretation and Translation Agency), the service was set up in 1995 by the local council and NHS Trusts, and provides interpreters and translations for the public sector and voluntary organisations in Cambridgeshire and the East of England.

CINTRA draws its interpreters from the local communities. These community members are trained in interpretation techniques and many gain a professional Diploma in Public Service Interpreting. CINTRA offers services in over 50 languages.

More information about CINTRA and its work is available on its website:


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