Therese Coffey ‘tells health workers to stop using Oxford comma’

Therese Coffey has told workers in the Department of Health and Social Care to stop using the Oxford comma in their communications, it has been claimed.

The Health Secretary reportedly issued guidance to staff to advise them on her working preferences after she was appointed to the role earlier this month.

The instructions, which the Financial Times said had been emailed to staff and published on the department’s intranet, also told workers to “be positive”.

The ban on the Oxford comma – a punctuation mark that some people place before the last item on a list – has sparked a backlash, with some health workers viewing the instruction as “patronising”.

The email to staff was sent last Thursday and also advised workers to steer clear of using “jargon”. The guidance was reportedly given the title of “new secretary of state ways of working preferences”.

The Financial Times said that the guidance had been sent to workers in Ms Coffey’s department but it had also been forwarded to staff at the UK Health Security Agency.

‘Extremely patronising’

The guidance advised workers to “be positive – if we have done something good, let us say so and avoid double negatives”.

One official described the email as “super patronising” while another said the instruction on the use of Oxford commas would be seen by staff as “extremely patronising”.

It is not unprecedented for newly appointed ministers to issue guidance to their staff when they arrive at a new department.

Jacob Rees-Mogg famously issued his staff with a “style guide” for writing correspondence when he was appointed to the role of Commons Leader in July 2019.

Mr Rees-Mogg’s instructions included a list of banned words and phrases as well as guidance on how to address MPs and constituents.

His rules had specified that organisations were to be treated as singular, that there should be a double space after all full stops and imperial measurements should be used whenever necessary.

His “style guide” also included a ban on the Oxford comma, as staff were told there should be no comma before the word “and” at the end of a list.

The email sent by Ms Coffey’s office is said to have annoyed some Department of Health and Social Care staff because of its “prescriptive” nature.

One official said: “Although there is usually some guidance, it’s not so prescriptive.”

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