What's the common name in usage in the UK for the part in the hospital that specializes in one field only (for example neurology)? I saw two different names 'wing' and 'department'. But both are in non native English speakers country, so I'm not sure what it reflexes and if it's correct also in context of medicine.

  • Are you asking about administrative divisions or physical areas? I know you're asking about the UK, so it's likely different there, but in the US, the "maternity department" would be the administrative aspect while the "maternity ward" would have the birthing rooms, nursery and such, and may be located on a single floor of the "north wing" of the hospital.
    – miltonaut
    Nov 29, 2018 at 2:23
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    As a native Briton, “ward” is probably the one I’ve heard most, i.e. the maternity ward. Nov 29, 2018 at 11:49

5 Answers 5


Wing and department are both acceptable.

"Wing" suggests a physical building that is next to the main part of the hosptial. Department suggests part of the organisational structure.

At my local hospital the buildings are named "Jubilee Centre", "Canadian Wing", in which there are multiple "Departments", each has its own name. The Canadian wing houses the "Ross Tilley Ward", "Day surgery" and the "Diet and Nutrition Department". It is possible for a building to house just one department. There is the "Burns and Reconstruction Department", which is both a building and a department.

There are many other words that could be used, and sometimes no word at all. One of the departments is called "Outpatients" another is called "Cardiology".

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    "Wing" is usually associated with part of a large building e.g. The south wing of the museum houses dinosaur relics. But the term is used in hospitals in the way you suggest. Sometimes you will see signs that say something like cardiac wing. It means that a whole section of the building is devoted to cardiac work.
    – WS2
    Nov 28, 2018 at 9:37
  • Surely 'wing' is too general. You could imagine a situation where there are several departments located in one wing of the building.
    – kandyman
    Nov 28, 2018 at 20:07
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    @kandyman "wing" would still be acceptable in the remaining cases (either where a department took up a whole wing, or where several departments which were closely-enough-related that there was a term for them as a group took up a wing between them) but yes, in general "department" would be preferable.
    – Darael
    Nov 28, 2018 at 21:54
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    @kandyman Yes, you can imagine that situation. But, as someone who's worked with and been to hospitals, there are also plenty of places where the section that does e.g. emergency medicine is large enough to be its own, separate wing.
    – anon
    Nov 29, 2018 at 0:23
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    @NicHartley I’m not disputing that. But since there are also places where several departments are in one wing, I suggested that ‘wing’ might be too general a term and that ‘department’ might be more precise. Is it so hard to imagine the sentence “The radiology department is located in the south wing, next to the cardiology department” ? (or whatever departments are likely to be close together)
    – kandyman
    Nov 29, 2018 at 0:34

A specialist section in a hospital is sometimes referred to as a unit as in "the maternity unit" or "the burns unit". Taking the definition from Collins:

any group or individual, esp when regarded as a basic element of a larger whole

So the maternity unit is the group within the hospital that deals specifically with maternity matters. You can see from the ngrams graph that "maternity ward" is more popular than "maternity unit", but that is more popular than "maternity department" (the order still holds if you switch the search to British English).

That said, it is also normal to simply omit the specifier (ward/department/unit) and say something like "Send these results through to cardiology".

If you attend hospital for a specific reason, you are very likely attending a "clinic". A clinic can be a specific building/location but it can also be a specific session. That is, a "baby clinic" can be held in a rural community centre, or it can be a specific part of a hospital building.

  • You are fairly safe with "unit". It can be anything from a button to a nuclear submarine.
    – WS2
    Dec 18, 2018 at 19:23

Have you considered the word "ward"? That's how I've heard it mostly commonly referred to.

I am in the UK, if that helps.

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    I don't think ward us the term the OP is looking for. At least my understanding of the term "ward" is a room where people stay in the hospital and receive supportive care and some minor treatments. For more major treatments the patients will be transported to appropriate rooms (e.g. an operating theatre for surgery) Nov 28, 2018 at 13:14
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    @PeterGreen "Ward" can sometimes be used in the OP's way, but you are right that it isn't an ideal fit. Many hospitals will have some "General" wards, and a number of more special-purpose wards (e.g. "Dementia ward") where patients with a common complaint will be sent. However, there would often be a department around that ward containing the people with the specialist skills to treat that class of patient.
    – TripeHound
    Nov 28, 2018 at 13:55
  • @PeterGreen Also, some wards may have functions that are not related to specific "diseases". For example my nearest hospital has a group of "stepdown wards" with specialist staff to monitor patients for the first 24 or 48 hours of recovery after major surgery, irrespective of what was the reason for the surgery. Once it is clear that there are no high-risk complications developing, the patients are moved to the departmental wards dealing with their particular medical problem.
    – alephzero
    Nov 28, 2018 at 20:27

A wing is a large section of a building. It may contain multiple departments or wards but it's a term common to all buildings large enough to have them. It's not hospital specific.

A ward is a room where patients sleep in a hospital, it may or may not be bound to a specific department. A specialist ward may be, but many wards are general and will take patients from multiple departments

A department is probably the word you're looking for. This covers the likes of cardiology, physiotherapy, ophthalmology etc. They may have the word department in the name, but will often just be referred to by their 'ology' or sometimes as a unit.

  • The children's ward at our local hospital consists of several rooms, plus some supporting facilities (play room, social room, toilets, parent's room / kitchen, reception - I assume there's also a staff room somewhere). Otherwise, this is spot on. Nov 29, 2018 at 11:19
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    @AlgyTaylor, children are special, they get more value for their choice of term :)
    – Separatrix
    Nov 29, 2018 at 11:23
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    You can also have "Day" wards where patients wait or undergo low to mid-level medical procedures, the patients there do not sleep over night. Although they may nap during the day, waiting can be boring.
    – Sarriesfan
    Nov 29, 2018 at 11:28

Generally 'department' relates to an administrative division which isn't necessarily located in one specific place while 'wing' tends to refer to a large area of a building or complex of buildings.

For example you might say that the cardiology department is based in the east wing of the hospital.

Of course if one part of the building is dedicated to one department it might well be called the cardiology (or whatever) wing.

There is also 'ward' which refers specifically to a (usually large) room or suite of rooms where patients are housed and/or treated.

You often also see the term 'unit' which tends to be used for a composite collection of staff, equipment, space and other resources intended to work together for a specific function or specialism. The implication often being that it is able to draw on a wide range of resources and coordinate them effectively.

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