Press release

Common clinical language for NHS will help improve patient care and safety

Better patient safety through electronic communication between clinicians has been secured by the adoption of a common clinical language.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Better patient safety through electronic communication between clinicians has been secured by the adoption of a common clinical language across all healthcare settings and organisations. Nurses, doctors, physiotherapists are now using SNOMED Clinical Terms (CT), the most comprehensive, multilingual clinical healthcare terminology in the world, meaning that information is exchanged accurately and safely across England. 

The Information Standards Board for Health and Social Care, has today approved this as a fundamental standard and notified all NHS organisations, independent providers and information system suppliers of the need to use SNOMED CT when providing care.

SNOMED CT is available in more than fifty countries including the US, Canada, Australia, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands.  It is already widely used in the UK for the exchange of clinical information, including the Choose and Book service for hospital appointments and for patients’ Summary Care Records.

Here in England, using this common language will enable nurses and doctors working in Primary, Secondary, Community, Mental Health and Social care to all contribute to health care shared records.

Health Minister, Simon Burns said:

“A common clinical language means nurses and doctors in all care settings can deliver a more effective and safer healthcare system. The adoption of SNOMED CT is an important milestone and will mean clearer and consistent communication between hospitals and GPs.  Having a standard language also helps patients better understand their care records.”

The UK is a world-leader in the development and use of healthcare terminologies and the use of coded clinical data has significantly increased over the last ten years. All GP records are recorded using terminologies, and there are estimated to be in excess of 6 billion items of coded data in GP records alone. A comprehensive terminology makes possible clear and consistent communication of clinical information, and improves record keeping, record sharing and speed of entry of information.

Jan Eric-Slot, Chief Executive of the International Health Terminology Standards Development Organisation who owns and manages the SNOMED CT terminology on behalf of 15 member countries, including the UK said:

“This is excellent news that one of our leading members has made this important commitment to use SNOMED CT in all healthcare settings. SNOMED CT contributes to the improvement of patient care, enabling systems to accurately record health care encounters, deliver decision support and exchange information effectively between health care providers. We look forward to supporting them in this important endeavour. “

Dr Charles Gutteridge, National Clinical Director for Informatics at the Department of Health and Medical Director, Barts and the London NHS Trust said:

“The ability of health technologies such as computers and mobile devices to improve health is really enhanced when doctors and nurses use machine readable terms to handover information to each other. The accurate transmission of information from GP surgery to specialist, from nurse to doctor and from care worker to doctor is central to good medical practice.

“SNOMED CT allows the transmission of information between any part of the health system. The terms are easy for clinicians to use and can be understood by patients and their families. This approval will ensure a standard way of transmitting information about patients and I hope that all clinicians will accelerate the use of this terminology for the benefit of the patients we care for.”

 Notes to editors:

1. For media enquiries only please contact the Department of Health Informatics media team on 0207 004 1555.

2. The Information Standards Board (ISB) approves information standards for the NHS and adult social care in England. The board consists of all the major organisations involved in health and social care, including the NHS Information Centre, Nursing & Midwifery Council and Intellect. More information about IBS is available on their website.

3. SNOMED CT is managed and maintained internationally by the International Health Terminology Standards Development Organisation (IHTSDO).

4. In England, SNOMED CT is managed by the UK Terminology Centre (UKTC) who are working to support the adoption of SNOMED CT throughout the UK.

5. The UKTC  is a leading member of the International Health Terminology Standards Development Organisation (IHTSDO), and provides a range of support services including the distribution of terminology products throughout the world, including to low income countries.

6. The fifteen member countries of the IHTSDO are: Australia, Canada, USA, UK, Estonia, Spain, Cyprus, Denmark, Lithuania, New Zealand, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, The Netherlands.

7. Further details on data standards can be found at the NHS Connecting for Health website.

Published 16 August 2011