books

Published: 21/11/2002, Volume II2, No. 5832 Page 30 31

Tackling NHS Jargon Getting the message across By Sarah Carr Publisher: Radcliffe Medical Press. ISBN: 185775428X.

165 pages.£19.95.

On 5 December, the Plain English Campaign will distribute its annual awards for the impenetrable use of English.

The NHS managed to escape without a single dishonourable mention last year, but it can't last.The health service lives and breathes jargon.

No policy document is complete without its 'stakeholders'and 'agencies'; nothing is done unless it leads to a 'step change'; and that can't happen without a 'change management process' that includes 'proactive engagement'with stakeholders (again).

The author of Tackling NHS Jargon is a former NHS manager, so she recognises such 'nonsense' for what it is - 'obscure, yet contagious.'

Unfortunately, she finds it impossible to write a book on combating jargon without using it.

Even the preface includes the following line: 'In an NHS highly concerned with evidence-based clinical practice, and increasingly interested in evidence-based management, evidence-based communication has so far not caught on.This book aims to remedy the situation.'

Ask anybody outside NHS management what that is supposed to mean and they will probably be stumped - although they might gather the book wants to 'help'with something.

Personally, I found Carr's constant references to 'communicators' intensely irritating - she means people who talk or write to others.And it would be easy to parody chapter one - 'categorising' NHS jargon into technical jargon, gobbledegook, buzz words and 'mixed jargon types'.

Carr's problem is that she doesn't really get to the bottom of why people use jargon in the first place.

Jargon is useful.As Carr says, it can function as a useful shorthand; there is nothing wrong with using jargon in the right context.Crucially, jargon can also hide what is really going on - not least from those who have to do it.

The NHS has a problem with jargon; but getting rid of it is not as difficult as this book makes out.All that is really required is a commitment to saying what you mean and meaning what you say.Which may be the problem.