What's the difference between "infirmary" and "sick-bay"?

Are they completely synonymous?

3 Answers 3


An infirmary is a kind of facility on its own, though it could be part of a larger institution such as a large hospital or medical complex.

A sick bay has originally been a part of a ship or military camp/ military base, but may now be any part of a larger medical facility.

The difference thus being that an infirmary is essentially a standalone unit while a sick bay is more of a portion set aside for the purpose.

The terms may be used interchangeably in actual practice, though.

sick′ bay`

n. a hospital or dispensary, esp. aboard ship.


(ĭn-fûr′mə-rē) n. pl. in·fir·ma·ries
A place for the care of the infirm, sick, or injured, especially a small hospital or dispensary in an institution.

  • There is nothing necessarily small about an 'infirmary'. The Manchester Royal Infirmary is a 750 bed teaching hospital, albeit part of a group of 5 hospitals on the same city site, collectively known as Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. But the word'infirmary' for such institutions perhaps continues out of sentimental recognition of their history. In the case of the MRI it began as a cottage hospital in 1752.
    – WS2
    Jan 31, 2014 at 10:04
  • @WS2 UK old use: a hospital. It is now used mainly in the names of hospitals: Leeds General Infirmary; the Royal Infirmary. (Cambridge Dict.) That meaning is designated as "UK old use" {now found only in the names of legacy institutions(?)}
    – Kris
    Feb 1, 2014 at 6:26

According to this link, there is a difference between the American and British definitions of infirmary http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/infirmary?q=infirmary

A sickbay is a room with beds for people who are ill, especially on a ship http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/sickbay?q=sickbay

  • Note that the UK meaning is marked as "old use" -- no longer in currency, other than in the names of legacy institutions.
    – Kris
    Feb 1, 2014 at 6:27

Infirmary is a building used as a hospital, or a large area used as a hospital, whereas sick-bay usually refers to a smaller area such as a room meant for the purpose.

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