Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Care

The NHS is currently split up into so many different groups and teams that it feels impossible to see the whole picture. One way of trying to group everyone back together is by calling them “Primary, Secondary or Tertiary” care.


Primary care is intended to be the first line of care that patients seek, whether this be from their GP, dentist, optician or pharmacist. This can include anyone involved in your general practice, eg.  practice nurse or phlebotomist.

The goal of primary care is not only to be the first point of contact, but also to treat the patient in a holistic manner, caring for them as a whole person rather than a specific disorder. This can cover everything from long term conditions, common illnesses, preventative treatment, immunisations and screening programmes. Any other concerns can then be referred on from the primary practitioner.


This groups together both community and acute sector care. This includes everything from district nurses to an emergency department admission, as well as any elective procedures.

Secondary care is intended for those medical issues that cannot be solved in primary care alone and require more specialist input. Most of these will take place in a hospital or clinic setting, although increasingly more services are moving into the community.


Tertiary refers to more specialist services, including neurosurgery, transplants or secure mental health facilities. These services are targetted at very specialist medical problems and utilise the latest evidenced based treatments and equipment that wouldn’t ordinarily be available in secondary care.



Care in the NHS (2018) MS Trust. Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2018).

NHS Providers (no date). Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2018).


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