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Hands off our jargon


Blog headlines

  • ‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory’
    16 September 2021

    The Networks blog this week comes from the Staff College: Leadership in Healthcare (Staff College) is a national charity dedicated to promoting great leadership for the public good.

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    This week’s blog we are sharing reflections by William Greenwood on the direction for the health service and potential impact on general practice.

  • When facilitation could turn into mediation
    3 September 2021

    Requests to attend a meeting, to help find a way forward, to help with planning, to redesign a care pathway, and numerous other reasons are not always what they seem. Sometimes you will be asked to facilitate, or just asked to attend. What then happens in the room may not be the meeting that you are expecting. Other situations, such as tensions between practices, departments or teams may give a more obvious sign that what is needed goes beyond just attending or facilitating a little.

  • Population Health Management?
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    One of the frequently heard phrases of the moment is population health management – but what is it and does it work. The blog is from a longer article by Monica Duncan exploring the topic.

  • The future must be primary care
    19 August 2021

    The blog this week is by Professor David Colin-Thomé, chair of PCC.

  • Preparing for winter 2021/22
    13 August 2021

    One of the hottest days of the year saw people from practices, primary care networks (PCNs) and federations gather to start to think creatively about managing their winter pressures in this session hosted by PCC and the NHS Confederation PCN Network.

  • Building the collaboration
    5 August 2021

    Prior to COVID-19 primary care network (PCN) community pharmacy leads (representing a group of pharmacy contractors in their locality) were starting to contact the clinical director for their allocated PCN to discuss how pharmacy services could develop and adapt to help address community health needs.

  • Audit into action… with a pandemic thrown into the mix!
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    A blog from the Clinical Leads for the National Audit of Care at the End of Life (NACEL).

  • GP partnership uses new video to highlight benefits of its merger-led transformation
    23 July 2021

    An East Cheshire-based GP practice, the Middlewood Partnership, which formally merged in order to successfully transform its clinical and business models, is sharing insights, via a new video, with colleagues across the health and social care sector.

  • Early evaluation of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Trailblazer
    15 July 2021

    The Birmingham, RAND and Cambridge Evaluation Centre (BRACE) is funded by the National Institute for Health Research to conduct rapid evaluation of promising new services and innovations in health and social care. The BRACE Rapid Evaluation Centre and Policy Innovation and Evaluation Research Unit have published findings from the early evaluation of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Trailblazer programme.

  • Learn from reflection
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  • Link of the week: National Thank You Day
    1 July 2021

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  • North East Essex integrated discharge single point of access - implementing the Coronavirus Act 2020 and Covid-19 hospital discharge service requirements
    24 June 2021

    The blog this week is from Frank Sims, chief executive of Anglian Community Enterprise and shares learning on collaboration and redesign to support hospital discharge.

  • Helping your patients making an informed choice: Medical or Surgical abortion?
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  • The potential for case finding patients with cardiovascular disease in a dental setting
    10 June 2021

    The blog this week is by Wendy Crew, PCC adviser, considering the opportunity to case find patients with cardiovascular disease in a dental setting.

  • Using population health data to inform ARRS recruitment
    3 June 2021

    Funding for the additional role reimbursement scheme (ARRS) has increased nationally from £430m (2020-21) to £746m max. (2021-22) with an allocation available for each primary care network (PCN) depending on the size of the population it covers. Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) draw down the funds but only as new roles are recruited within PCNs. PCNs are therefore being strongly encouraged to make use of their ARRS allocation to ensure people in their neighbourhoods benefit from the funding available.

  • SHAPE Atlas mapping tool
    27 May 2021

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  • Cancer Care Map
    20 May 2021

    The blog this week has been submitted by Robin Pritchard, co-director of Cancer Care Map. Cancer Care Map is a stand-alone, comprehensive, independent, free to use online directory of cancer support services in the UK providing verified and trusted information, regularly checked and updated and accessible to all.

  • Understanding and aligning link worker and community capacity building activity: A place-based approach in York and Wakefield
    13 May 2021

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  • Virtual group consultations and Why skip/send it to landfill?
    6 May 2021

    An article on group consultations that celebrates the patient perspective and experiences of receiving care this way from Alison Manson. Blog on reusing/recycling and saving money for a NHS Trust from Alex Ford.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Hands off our jargon

The BBC published a disgraceful attack on NHS jargon this week. The piece reveals a complete lack of understanding of how the NHS works, all too typical of the national media.

The article alleges that the NHS uses jargon to keep patients and the public in the dark, as if this were a bad thing.

You would think that the BBC, one of the world’s foremost news organisations, would appreciate that clarity is not the sole or even the main function of language.

While plain English may appear desirable to lay people, it simply wouldn’t work in an NHS context.  The NHS exists to treat things not prevent them. NHS communications are designed on similar lines: not to avoid misunderstandings but to make them better, slowly and as safely as possible.

It helps to think of communication as a long-term condition and an adverse reaction to jargon as a symptom. The patient presents in a muddled or completely uncomprehending state. He or she needs to be seen by a spin doctor as soon as possible and prescribed a course of treatment.

Self-care is cheapest and therefore best. Often a jargon buster or easy-read guide will do the trick. It is rarely a complete cure, but it may alleviate the worst symptoms.

In extreme cases there will need to be an admission, usually involving a complete plain English transfusion. This is an expensive and risky procedure, which the NHS can ill afford at a time of austerity. This is why most commissioners, even if they are capable of clarity, pretend never to have heard of it.

So why not just start with the plain English version, get straight to the point and avoid misunderstandings? If you need to ask this question, you should ask yourself if a career in the NHS is right for you.

Direct language is all very well if you want to have a meaningful conversation with someone or get a clear message across. But what if you are not interested in either of these things? Talkative patients slow things down. Answers lead to more questions. Before you know it, they’re queuing round the block or demanding to see the GP on a Sunday.

And if the message is unpalatable – such as that patients will need to wait hours or weeks to be seen – it is best obscured or delivered in such a way as to imply that any delay is largely their fault.

In these situations, think of jargon as the organisational equivalent of boiling oil, used to deter all but the most determined marauder from scaling the castle walls. Use any other kind of language and you have dropped the drawbridge, thrown down your weapons and told the enemy where you keep your gold.

The best jargon sounds deceptively like English, enabling a skilled practitioner to use it to give a convincing impression of helpfulness. Given the choice between pretending to understand and looking stupid, the person on the receiving end will usually give up after a couple of attempts.

Handy as it is for fobbing off patients, this is only a secondary use of jargon. Its main purpose is to fool ourselves.

Sometimes we may simply want to make each other feel better about an impending disaster, so for example we stop talking about failure and introduce the concept of a “success regime”. The facts of growing hospital deficits may not have changed, but how much nicer is it for two-thirds of trusts to feel they are part of a success than to be branded failures? The worse things are, the more successful we all become.

Faced with impossible tasks, such as returning the NHS to financial balance, stopping people from doing the things that make them ill or making the NHS paperless by 20-whatever, telling the plain truth would be reckless, demoralising and frankly wrong.

The collection of fibs we choose to tell instead needs its own special language. Jargon allows us to bluff, obfuscate and nuance our way out of the firing line, it buys us time, it creates the illusion that we know what we’re doing. It’s great.

Getting rid of jargon would be like preventing illness – pointless and counterproductive. It is difficult to see how our NHS could survive without it.

Semantics facilitator and integrated syntax lead: NHS Networks


The BBC's travesty of the truth is here.

dr michael platt
dr michael platt says:
Mar 31, 2017 08:02 AM

Rather an over-sensitive response!
Doctors were made to stop using their 'jargon by managers after the managerialisation of the NHS in 1991..
I do think that there is too much jargon and we need to be clear and understandable in all our communications.

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Mar 31, 2017 11:27 AM

The ongoing jargon situation has transformed marvellously in the post managerialisation era

Jon Collins
Jon Collins says:
Mar 31, 2017 09:43 AM

Needs more TLAs

Michael Westcombe
Michael Westcombe says:
Mar 31, 2017 10:10 AM