Therese Coffey under fire for telling staff not to use Oxford commas
New Health Secretary Therese Coffey has come under fire after her office issued guidance telling workers to avoid using policy “jargon” and to stop using Oxford commas.
An email, understood to have been sent to staff at the Department of Health and Social Care and sent to workers at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), reportedly told them to avoid using the last comma, used in a list of things.
The Financial Times (FT), which first reported the story, said the document was titled “Preferences for how the new Secretary of State works”.
He asked officials to “be precise” and “be positive – if we’ve done something good, let’s say it and avoid double negatives,” the FT said.
One UKHSA official told the FT the email was “super condescending” and added: “The idea that we have to frame the issues positively shows someone who doesn’t want to deal with the issues, so that’s not encouraging.”
Ms Coffey was also criticized for the email on Twitter by NHS staff and patients.
She has shared her hatred of the Oxford comma on Twitter in the past, describing it in 2015 as one of her “pet hates”.
“I loathe the Oxford comma and refuse to use it,” wrote the MP.
She said she was “delighted” to learn that Oxford University Press was reducing its use in 2011, adding: “I can’t stand it and constantly removing it. I’m talking.
According to government sources, it is not unusual for ministerial teams to determine staff working arrangements when new ministers are appointed.
They said the government had “set out broad guidance for staff to help deliver an effective service to the public and ensure better outcomes for patients”.
The FT reported that UKHSA staff were feeling “demoralised” after the government earlier this year made significant cuts to contract staff who were involved in outbreak control during the Covid pandemic.
Some permanent staff have been offered a 2.5% pay rise to cope with the rising cost of living.
“We’re actually taking a pay cut,” one official familiar with the plans told the FT.
A UKHSA spokesman said: “UKHSA does not comment on leaked emails or briefings.
“We greatly appreciate all of our hard-working colleagues who work tirelessly to make our nation’s health secure.”