Skip to main content


Definitions of Healthcare

The different levels or offers of health services are divided up in the following categories:

  • Primary healthcare is your first point of contact in the healthcare system. In the NHS, the main source of primary health care is general practice (for example, services provided by your local doctor or dentist).
  • Community healthcare provides healthcare treatment in the community to assist you in treating and managing a long term disability or an ongoing medical condition.
  • Secondary care is healthcare offered by a local hospital, including:
    • Treatment of urgent emergency health problems and accidents
    • Planned specialist medical care
    • Planned surgery

If you go to hospital for planned medical care or surgery, this will usually be because your doctor, or another primary healthcare professional, has referred you to a specialist.

  • Tertiary care is a highly complex or specialist level of healthcare provided by specialised hospitals or departments that are usually linked to medical schools or teaching hospitals. People needing such care are referred to the appropriate centre by primary or secondary healthcare professionals.
  • Hospice care aims to improve the lives of people who have an incurable illness and to support those who are close to them. Hospices provide care for people from the point at which their illness is diagnosed as terminal, until the end of their life, however long that may be.