I’m not against the NHS, I’m a big fan of it.
Sorry, but I just wanted to get that off my thorax.
“Thorax?!” Yes – I wanted a more technical term, even though a simpler one like “chest” would have been far better.
Unfortunately, despite all the wonderful work the NHS does, it’s precisely this practice of mangling communication that seems widespread within it – even at the top.
There was a perfect example at the weekend. The chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, commented on the Prime Minister’s announcement about seven-days-a-week working for GPs.
Take a look:
Simon Stevens comments on Prime Minister's GP announcement on Marr Show. pic.twitter.com/vs0FIMYS6h
— NHS England Media (@NHSEnglandMedia) October 4, 2015
This is a public statement responding to another public statement; it’s not one for the eyes of GPs only. It’s for you and me and all the other people who pay for and use the NHS. But how many times do you have to read it before you understand it?
It contains terms and phrases I believe no-one outside the NHS would ever associate with the organisation and therefore with their healthcare:
- Five Year Forward View. This is a dreadful name for something that purports to “set out a vision for the future of the NHS” (another one?!). But someone probably thought “five-year plan” sounded too Soviet.
- Sovereignty. Doctors may have the power to save a life, but since when have they wielded the supreme power of royalty? If it’s an accepted term internally, it should stay there. It does not travel.
- Vanguard care models. You can’t include this without even a short explanation. Ask 100 people in the street what it means if you doubt me. There’s an argument for brevity, but never at the expense of understanding.
- Access currently separate funding streams. People in the real world never speak like this (or perhaps you do actually pop to the cashpoint or bank to access your funding streams, but I don’t). It makes the NHS sound aloof, above those it serves.
- Redesigning care. You might redesign a car’s exhaust system or a rocket you’re about to launch, but you don’t redesign care; you change the way you treat patients. Even better, you improve the way you treat patients.
When you’re the world’s fifth biggest employer with 1.7 million staff, it’s easy to see how this sort of internal gobbledygook can take hold to the extent that employees think it’s normal. No wonder similar examples are numerous within the NHS (and within many other large organisations). But that’s no excuse.
If the NHS does not address this epidemic, it will be failing patients (not “service users”).
Any NHS managers who challenge language of this sort deserve recognition. Those who change it should be applauded.
They are the true vanguards.