Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Body Politic

Message to new government: please ban buzzwords

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 05 May 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2407
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist, London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}

    Whoever comes out top in the UK general election should purge the NHS of the ridiculous jargon that plagues it

    At a recent awards presentation dinner I was half listening when something snapped. The prize winner explained that whatever she had done (please don’t ask—I was doodling on my table plan) had improved services “across the patch.”

    This was, I guess, a variation on the phrase “across the piece,” for which a Google search produces nearly a million hits. It means, according to, a website with a dictionary of ridiculous business jargon, “affecting an entire project or organisation.” But you already knew that: nobody can survive long in the NHS without a detailed knowledge of the prosthetic phrases designed to act as crutches to lame arguments.

    Readers of this column may already know who won the general election, while I am writing in ignorance. But whichever party or combination of parties forms the next British government would earn my support by issuing a banned list of buzzwords. That would be a centrally imposed target we could all support.

    George Orwell, writing in 1946, compared the abuse of language to the abuse of drink. “A man may take to drink because he …

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