It's Plain English for the HSE – But the Worst Sinners are Still Sinning

At the end of January 2018 the Health & Safety Executive launched Plain English guidelines for its employees. The idea is to help every employee communicate clearly, taking ordinary people’s health literacy into account at every stage.
Until now, the healthcare sector has traditionally used dense jargon, leaving many people completely lost in space, unable to understand what’s happening to them and their loved ones. So it’s great to see it changing tack. On the other hand, sadly, the worst sinners are still sinning… 

HSE takes a simple yet profound step to better communication

From now on, every communication HSE employees send out, every face-to-face discussion HSE staff have with people, will be in Plain English, presented accurately and clearly with no jargon. If it’s in writing, it will also be laid out so it’s easy to digest.
With a bit of luck the change will give people the knowledge, understanding, skills and confidence they need to, “take an active role in their health and wellbeing”, make good decisions and act on the information they get from healthcare professionals. It’s great news when research proves good communication leads to fewer errors and better outcomes.
As Paul Connors, National Director of HSE Communications, said, “Feedback received from patients and service users reveals they want us to show care and compassion when we talk and write to them. When we explain things clearly and with care and compassion, people have more confidence and trust in us and are more likely to take our advice, follow medical guidance, and take better care of their health.”

Plain English – The biggest sinners are still sinning

Sadly, while the HSA has taken the plain communications route, several industries are still living in the dark ages, beating their customers around the head with pompous, verbose and over-elaborate corporate speak, industry jargon, legalese and – my pet hate – the ‘passive voice’ so loved by politicians, lawyers, many large corporates and everyone else who wants to distance themselves from the message they’re putting across. The biggest sinners are still sinning. And there’s no sign of them stopping. Which means a percentage of their customers will remain confused and ignorant, unable to empower themselves.
What are these stubborn old-school industries? Insurance companies, other financial services providers and, of course, the biggest sinner of all and probably the most opaque industry on the planet, the legal sector.
It’s wonderful how something as simple and easy to achieve as plain language communications can change lives for the better, putting people in a position where they can both understand and deal with difficult situations confidently. And it’s a great shame that the worst sinners of all seem dedicated to keeping up the bad work.
Are you 100% certain you’re not contravening the Unfair Contract Terms act 2015, which says you must make your contract terms and notices fair and clear for consumers? As a player in the legal sector, do you use plain language in your communications? If not, why not? If you need support translating GDPR, corporate, financial or legal gobbledegook into language your audience will understand, it’s something I do frequently, with great pleasure.

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