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Patient empowerment: the need to go beyond buzzwords

26 October 2023
Volume 32 · Issue 19


John Tingle, Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, discusses the potential pitfalls of buzzwords in the NHS and looks at several reports around patient empowerment

In any professional endeavour there are buzzwords, words of the moment that drive policy making and practice. Over the years in the NHS, I have seen such words and phrases as, patient advocacy, controls assurance, clinical governance, shared blame culture and so on used in the context of patient safety. These words can be seen to instigate and drive patient safety policy making and practice for a period and then they seem to disappear. They occasionally re-emerge, refreshed, and help drive again patient safety policy making and practice.

Patient empowerment falls into this category of NHS buzzwords, and it has enjoyed a great deal of longevity as a driving policy and practice change concept in the NHS. Like any buzzword it is capable of several different meanings, and it is used a lot. This is a key advantage of buzzwords. They have wide, generic, and diffuse meanings. People can attribute many different meanings to them and can understand them differently. I have said before in this column that it is the idea behind the label that matters and not necessarily the label itself. There is a need to debate and discuss meaning and go beyond the mere label.

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