NHS tone of voice: words and written communications

Our written communications should be clear, concise, honest and open.The words we use should closely follow and support our principles and values.

They need to demonstrate our:

  • professionalism;
  • clarity;
  • respect;
  • accessibility;
  • straightforwardness.

If you are writing on behalf of the NHS, make sure your material is personal and direct:

  • Could your text be spoken out loud to the reader?
  • Does it sound as if it’s being addressed to an individual?

Respect, understanding and accessibility

By the nature of what we do, we often communicate about difficult, and sometimes painful, subjects. With this in mind, it may help to ask:

  • Do your words communicate genuine understanding and respect?
  • Do they empower and inform the reader or listener?

Similarly, due to the complex subjects we deal with, the words we use need to be as simple and accessible as possible. This means they need to be:

  • free of jargon;
  • free of acronyms; and
  • free of overly technical language.

Putting a quality assurance system in place will help to ensure that all staff members communicate to an agreed standard. Training programmes and workshops can help to engage people with the importance of communication and the power of words.

We should also be conscious of contributing to the good reputation of the NHS. Does what we say add to or detract from the confidence people have in the health service?

One-to-one communication with patients and the public

Every time you communicate with a patient or a member of the public, you are acting as an ambassador for the NHS. You are projecting the NHS identity. Remember, first impressions count, and what you say and how you say it will impact on that person’s confidence (positively or negatively) in our ability to do a good job.

Putting a quality assurance system in place will help to ensure that all staff members communicate to an agreed standard. Training programmes and workshops can help to engage people with the importance of communication and the power of words.

The simplest things can influence how the NHS is perceived. Think how many letters get sent out every day from, and on behalf of, the NHS. Always be aware of what these letters say about us as an organisation.

Last updated: 28/04/08

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