Health inequalities, remember this man

The phrase of the month seems to be health inequalities, but really, what does this mean? To professionals (medical and associated), it is perhaps based on language usage to convey the level of understanding of most people. To others it may be protected characteristics and how these effect a person’s access to health.

As usual, for me, it always helps to flip this on its head. Who are these people? Are they a large and diverse group? How do professional think as they do? Certain professions, in this case let us say medical and legal, historically have relied on use of Latin as a way of keeping knowledge to the upper echelons of society. If you understood and were taught Latin, this was deemed to not only show your education but class. Hence, both professions are littered with usage of language that the layperson does not understand and find difficulty in grasping.

Obviously, there is a reason and sometimes a need within the professions to speak, discuss and understand issues in this way. My query is, is speaking in this way to the ‘average person’ necessary? Perhaps such language in itself leads to such inequalities.

Personalisation is about choice and control. In order for this to happen people need to understand what is being said. I.e. myocardial infarction is a bit of a mouthful, yet a heart attack is understood by most people who have not had a medical education.

In my previous role, working with consumer law, an eminent judge, in relation to discussing what reasonable means, is quoted as saying that when defining such words it is not for what the legal expert or judge would mean to be reasonable, but what the man on the Clapham omnibus would interpret the term to mean. Similarly, when looking at language and equalities, I often see documents showing levels of highbrow intellect which most people neither do not understand nor is within their daily usage.

Too often, I see lengthy reports that are dissertation standard or presentations that are superbly well written and highly educational. If it is however, content aimed for members of the public, you may not be meeting your target audience.

In my opinion, it important that when writing or explaining things to a member of the public, in order for them to have choice and control they need to understand what is being told. To enable this when starting or meeting someone, have the man on the Clapham omnibus strongly in mind. This may make the exercise and experience much more enjoyable and the recipient may feel more obliged to participate and get involved. The NHS is everyone service to be part of it. They need to understand it.


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