Language in Health Care - Inspiring or Dispiriting?



The fourth event organised by Think About Health was held from 16-17th September 2010 at Woodbrooke College, Birmingham and explored the different languages, clinical, technical, managerial, political, colloquial and other, that flow around the NHS, and their effects and implications for health care and those who plan, offer and receive it.

• What languages are used in the contemporary NHS and why?
• Who uses which languages, in what contexts, and to what effect?
• Are some languages more inspiring and helpful than others?
• Are the various languages used compatible with each other, or do they represent different world views and life orientations?
• Do some languages mislead and unhelpfully distort care and working life?
• Does it matter whether the sorts of languages used are ‘truthful’ and ‘beautiful’?
• Is there a need for new and different kinds of languages to be used?
• Would aesthetically pleasing language produce better, more helpful care relationships?
• Are language and health care directly or only tangentially related to each other?
• Is there a place for the non-instrumental and non-technical language in health care?

Plenary presentations were followed by structured, small group discussions around themes. A final plenary drew together the issues discussed, with a panel of leaders from academic disciplines and health care professions. For a report on the conference from our website officer, Simon Waltho, click here.

The plenary speakers were:

Femi Oyebode - Professor of Psychiatry at University of Birmingham, Consultant Psychiatrist , National Centre for Mental Health, The Barberry, Birmingham, and Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist to Birmingham Women’s Hospital and Birmingham Dental Hospital. He has also been a service director. In addition, he has a substantial interest in medical humanities and, as a published poet, a skilful user of many different kinds of language . He recently edited Mindreadings: Literature and Psychiatry (London, RCPsych Publications, 2009).

David Fuller - Emeritus Professor of English and former Chairman of the Department of English Studies in the University of Durham. From 2002 to 2007 he was also the University’s Public Orator. He trained as a musicologist and has written on Jacobean stage music, on opera, and on ballet. His current research is on Marlowe and Shakespeare in modern performance. As a University manager, as well as being a user and critic of words, David has many insights into the ways that languages are used in institutions. He has lately become involved in the work of the Wellcome Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham.

Other contributors and panellists included:

Angus Clarke – clinical geneticist, Cardiff

Martyn Evans – professor of medical humanities, Durham

Deb Lee – consultant physician, Cumbria

Jane MacNaughton – GP, medical educator and professor in medical humanities, Durham