Coffey urges staff to be positive, be precise, and not use Oxford commas

by 24britishtvSept. 15, 2022, 5 p.m. 15
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Thérèse Coffey, the new health secretary, has faced criticism after civil servants in her department were advised to avoid jargon when communicating with her – and not to use Oxford commas.

The advice, in a memo to staff at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), urged officials to “be positive” in their missives to Coffey, who is also Liz Truss’s deputy prime minister.

Health officials told the Financial Times, which first reported on the memo, that they found it “super patronising”, both in terms of framing communications in positive ways, and avoiding the Oxford comma.

Department sources confirmed the existence of the document, published on the DHSC’s intranet, saying this was not uncommon when new ministers arrived. However, they claimed it was prepared without Coffey’s knowledge, with one saying there had possibly been “a bit of over eagerness” in the content.

Coffey has previously taken to social media to deride the Oxford comma, the grammatically contentious practice in which a comma is sometimes used to separate the penultimate and last words in a list of terms, in 2015 calling it “one of my pet hates”.

According to the FT, the document, titled: New secretary of state ways of working preferences, asked staff to “be precise” and also “be positive – if we have done something good, let us say so and avoid double negatives”.

A person described as having “knowledge of the mood at the UKHSA” told the paper the email was seen as “super patronising “, adding: “It does make you consider if you’re in the right place when a new minister comes in with this.”

One senior public health official said staff view the advice on Oxford commas as “extremely patronising”.

A UKHSA spokesperson said: “UKHSA does not comment on leaked emails or briefings. We value enormously all of our hard-working colleagues who work tirelessly to make our nation’s health secure.”

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