Therese Coffey under fire after telling staff to stop using Oxford commas

New health secretary Therese Coffey has come under fire after her office issued guidance telling workers to “be positive” and avoid using policy wonk “jargon”.

An email, understood to have been sent to staff at the Department of Health and Social Care and sent on to workers at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), is reported to have told them to avoid using “Oxford commas” – the final comma used in a list of things.

The Financial Times (FT), which first reported the story, said the document was titled “New secretary of state ways of working preferences”.

It asked employees to “be precise” and “be positive — if we have done something good, let us say so and avoid double negatives”, the newspaper said.

One UKHSA employee told the FT that the email was “super patronising” and added: “The idea that we have to frame issues positively indicates a person who doesn’t want to deal with problems, so that’s not encouraging.”

Ms Coffey also came under fire for the email on Twitter from NHS staff and patients.

Deputy prime minister and new health secretary Therese Coffey


In the past, she has shared her hatred of the Oxford comma on Twitter, describing it in 2015 as one of her “pet hates”.

“I abhor the Oxford comma and refuse to use it,” the MP wrote.

She said she was “delighted” to learn that the Oxford University Press was reducing its use in 2011, adding: “I cannot bear it and constantly remove it. Rant over.”

According to government sources, it is not unusual for ministerial teams to set out ways of working for staff when new ministers are appointed.

They said the Government has “set out a broad guide for staff to help provide an efficient service to the public and deliver better outcomes to patients”.

The FT reported that UKHSA workers were feeling “demoralised” after the Government earlier this year made substantial job cuts to fixed-term staff who were involved in outbreak control during the Covid pandemic.

Some permanent staff have been offered a 2.5% pay increase to help manage the rising cost of living.

“We are actually getting a salary cut,” one employee with knowledge of the plans told the FT.

A UKHSA spokesman said: “UKHSA does not comment on leaked emails or briefings.

“We value enormously all of our hard-working colleagues who work tirelessly to make our nation’s health secure.”

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