Corporate document

Talking about people

Use person‑centred language. Be respectful, empathetic and inclusive. Person-centred language reflects good manners and sensitivity, not political correctness. There are some examples in table 1.

Avoid labelling people. Conditions describe what a person has, not what a person is. Diseases are treated, not people. Diseases, not people, respond to treatment. Conditions, not people, are monitored. People are not unsuitable for treatments: treatments are unsuitable for them. People have diseases, they do not suffer from them.

Important exceptions are 'autistic people' and 'disabled people'.

Table 1 Person-centred language

Do use

Do not use

People with diabetes


People with schizophrenia


People with obesity

Obese people

People who smoke


People who use drugs

Drug users, drug addicts

People who are dependent on alcohol

People who misuse alcohol


People who abuse alcohol

A person with depression

A person with a mental health condition

A person suffering from depression

Mentally ill, mental health problems

People with behaviour that challenges services

People with challenging behaviour

People with a learning disability

People with learning disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities

Disabled people

People with a disability

Autistic people

People with autism

Surgery is unsuitable for some people

Some people are unsuitable for surgery

If the disease has already been treated

If the person has already been treated

The disease did not respond to treatment

The patient did not respond to treatment

When monitoring the disease

When monitoring the patient

Also see GOV.UK's inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability.

Try to use people, not patients or service users. Sometimes it will make sense to use other terms (for example, when talking about clinical trials or to distinguish from other groups), but even then, consider people in the trial or people who use X services.

Deaf and blind

Deaf can be used to mean any range of hearing loss, but Deaf (with a capital D) may also refer to people who consider themselves to be part of a cultural or linguistic minority. Most members of this community use a sign language as their preferred language. People with hearing loss or people with hearing impairment may be more suitable.

Blind refers to total loss of vision. Visual impairment refers to any kind of partial sight that is below 'normal' levels. Remember to use whichever is appropriate for the context.


Always be specific when talking about people's age, for example 'people aged 90 and over'.

Be accurate: men over 65 is different from men aged 65 and over (1 includes men aged exactly 65, the other does not). 

Do not use the age of… or …years of age. Saying X‑year olds or over Xs is fine. 

Do not use neonates. If you mean newborn babies, say in newborn babies. If you specifically mean the neonatal period (that is, up until 28 days), say in newborn babies under 28 days.

Do not use age groups if possible, because they mean different things to different people. If you need to, we stratify them as follows, but you should usually define them at first use: 

  • babies: 1 year and under

  • children: up to 12 (but define in brackets because child means different things to different people)

  • young people: between 12 and 17 (but define in brackets because young person means different things to different people)

  • adults: 18 and over

  • older people: 65 and over.


Avoid faith-specific language or terminology that may exclude some of our users (use first name not Christian name).

Use faith groups to refer to people with religious beliefs collectively. Take into account the customs and practices associated with particular beliefs, but avoid stereotyping or making assumptions. Give examples if possible, but do not try to list every possible faith group that shares a particular belief.


Use a capital letter and be specific when talking about someone's ethnic background. For example, 'levels of diagnosed ill health are higher in Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean groups'. Use the UK Government's list of ethnic groups for how to refer to specific ethnicities or broader ethnic groups.  

If you cannot be specific, use 'ethnic minority'. For example, 'The study included 13 people from ethnic minority backgrounds'.

Do not use Black, Asian and minority ethnic, or the abbreviations BME or BAME. 

Skin colour

Only use skin colour if it's essential to make sense of what you're discussing. Use lowercase 'black', 'white' or 'brown', not 'dark' or 'light'.

If talking about a condition that affects the skin, be specific if it looks different on different skin colours. For example, 'pressure ulcers in people with brown or black skin tend to present as purple or blue patches, whereas in people with white skin they tend to present as red patches'.

Sex, gender and sexual orientation

Do not confuse sex, gender and sexual orientation, but remember that these can intersect. See for definitions of sex, gender and sexual orientation

Use 'sex' if talking about biology. For example, 'there is not enough evidence to know if these treatments affect people differently based on sex'.  

Use inclusive language. This usually means using 'people', 'they' and 'them' or rewording. See table 2 for examples.  

If being neutral would be unclear, unsafe or inaccurate, be more specific. This might mean talking about one population, if you're referring to statistics or clinical trial evidence. For example, 'gender surgery for trans men may include construction of a penis', 'the clinical trial included 44 men', or 'women living in the most deprived areas are more than 2.5 times more likely to die than women living in the least deprived areas'. Or, it might mean adding populations if the content applies to different groups: For example, 'lower urinary tract symptoms in men, trans women and non-binary people with a prostate', or 'This guideline is for pregnant women and pregnant trans men and non-binary people'. 

Use man, woman, or trans person, trans man or trans woman if you are referring to someone whose gender identity differs from the sex they were registered with at birth. Do not use transwoman, transman, transgender or transsexual.

Use anatomical terms like vagina, penis, uterus, prostate. For example, 'The device is circular and encloses the penis'.

Do not change words that describe broad services or medical specialties. For example, 'maternity services'.

Table 2 Gender wording examples



Offer hormonal treatment to women with suspected, confirmed or recurrent endometriosis.

Offer hormonal treatment if there is suspected, confirmed or recurrent endometriosis.

Warn men undergoing radical treatment for prostate cancer of the likely effects of the treatment on their urinary function.

Explain how radical treatment for prostate cancer may have negative effects on urinary function.

Diagnose gestational diabetes if the woman has a 2-hour plasma glucose level of 7.8 mmol/litre or above following an oral glucose tolerance test.

Diagnose gestational diabetes if an oral glucose tolerance test shows plasma glucose levels of 7.8 mmol/litre or above.

Use sexual orientation not sexuality. For example, 'residential care should reflect sexual orientation and cultural preferences'.

Be specific, and remember that sexual orientation and gender can intersect, when talking about sexual orientation. You can use, for example, lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, or pansexual. For example, 'Ensure staff are aware that bisexual and asexual people are also at risk of forced marriage'. Use Stonewall's glossary on LGBTQ+ terms for how to refer to specific sexual orientations.

If it's not possible to be specific, use the abbreviation LGBTQ+ (no need to spell it out). For example, 'Consider providing services for particular groups experiencing homelessness, such as LGBTQ+ people'.  


You can use 'disfigurement' to talk about a group of people, for example, 'people with disfigurements often experience unwanted staring'.

But, if referring to an individual, avoid 'disfigurement' and do not use 'disfigured person', 'defect' or 'deformed'. Instead, use a term that describes the individual, such as 'scars from a cancer operation', or 'Moebius syndrome'.

If describing a cancer, or surgery, avoid using the word 'disfiguring'. Use neutral words, such as 'skin cancer, which can change the appearance of the face if it spreads'. Or specifically describe what the surgery is, for example, 'surgery to remove the nose'. You could also use 'surgery that causes a visible difference to a person's face'.

Other terms

Try not to use clinician. Healthcare professional is preferable if you want to specify a qualified professional, or healthcare worker for more general use.

Table 3 Social and care terms

Do use

Do not use

End of life care

Terminal care

Socioeconomic status


Poor people

Wealthy people

People who are underserved

(but be more specific if you can)

People who are neglected

Hard-to-reach people

Disadvantaged people

People experiencing homelessness (but be more specific if you can)

The homeless

People who sleep rough

People without homes

People who take their own life

People who die by suicide

People who commit suicide

People who kill themselves

Use frailer people for people whose age or physical characteristics may prevent their having certain treatments ('Older, frailer people for whom chemotherapy is not suitable').

Asylum seeker, refugee and migrant worker are not interchangeable.

Refer to Think Local Act Personal's Care and Support Jargon Buster for other helpful social care definitions.