Published: 24/02/2005, Volume II5, No. 5944 Page 29

Why does the NHS hide behind jargon and acronyms? Is it because we want to prevent patients from understanding what is happening, or is it just laziness?

It seems we cannot have a title for a job, organisation or group without finding something to shorten it to.

Different parts of the NHS have the same acronym for vastly different things. A PET in Newcastle can have a completely different meaning to one in Plymouth - it is a project executive team for a new hospital, a positron emission tomography scanner or, according to the two elderly visitors standing outside one hospital PET scanner, the place to bring Tiddles for his x-ray.

Acronyms are everywhere, and some are liked more than others. For instance, why has the Department of health changed the DoH to DH - does it have anything to do with Homer Simpson? Others belittle the individual or organisation. Last week I was at a meeting where someone was asked to report on TAT, actually an important subject.

When I first joined the NHS as director of public relations, I was informed by my medical director that PR stood for per rectum. At least I knew where I stood.

Acronyms might simplify things for people in the know, but they do not aid understanding. When you are writing, consider the audience.

Whoever it is, you should always write out the full title of something when you first use it and then put the initials, if you must, in brackets.

Subsequent mentions of the title can then just use the initials.

If you must write a large document with a lot of acronyms, consider putting a glossary at the back - at least then everyone will be able to see what they mean.

You should also consider what your job title or organisation might be shortened to. The Commission for Health Improvement was not happy with being a CHIMP. The rejuvenation drive for one of our larger cities, Portfolio Of Opportunities, quickly became a pile of just that.

Claire Austin is a former communications director at University Hosptal Birmingham foundation trust and is now a freelance consultant.

claireaustin1@hotmail. com