What is the language of our health service today? What words and phrases do we use about the NHS and what do they say about us? More importantly, what do they say about where we want to get too?
Well, one place to start perhaps is the text of the three reviews of the NHS recently completed by Francis, Keogh and Berwick.
I did these imperfect, hurried, over-simplistic warts and all, ‘word clouds’* from the text of each report. Fascinating and frustrating in equal measures, nonetheless it is interesting to dwell on what is common but also the differences between them. These things carry a very strong health warning. I know. But I wonder whether the instinctive responses they stimulate are really that out-of-kilter with everything I have seen or heard said by commentators so far? What do you think?
I would make a few general comments with all the caveats above: that the language seems to encapsulate inertia not progress, there is little use of ‘active’ or, if you prefer ‘action-orientated’ words; the language feels abstract rather than personal; there is an absence of ‘glue’ words that bind an organisation together such as engagement, inclusiveness or involvement and; perhaps inevitably, there is little sense of what the future might be about.
If you click on each word cloud it should take you to a larger version of it. If you click on the report names each will also take you to a site where you can find the full report.
Ok, enough of reading too much into things. But I would be genuinely interested to know whether anyone has ever done a study of how the language of the health service has evolved,
* Word clouds are, in essence, picture representations of text. Generally speaking the size of the word in the ‘word cloud’ denotes the frequency with which it is used in the text. And arguably indicates the emphasis that this has in the meaning being conveyed in the text.
2 thoughts on “The language of Francis, Keogh and Berwick on the NHS, in pictures.”
Interesting idea will look at this properly later, but my gut reaction is that an unhelpful linguistic style permeates not just the NHS but most if not all of the public sector. It obfuscates, complicates, excludes and is counter-productive. It is often overly abstract,
passive and doesn’t reflect what needs to happen. For all the ‘need to change’ messages I think this could actually hinder change.
I have a short paper on linguistic landscape of Francis which I will send you and agree that a proper analysis would be fascinating. There have of course been positive changes (though even some of those have not been adopted fully) but I am constantly trying to get people to say what they mean without shrouding it in layers of excluding over intellectualised corporate-speak! Shrouding. Which is what we do to corpses…
Love your comments, thank you. I would be really interested to see the paper about the linguistic landscape of Francis. Post holiday resolution to ‘say what I mean…’