Tuesday, 18 July 2017
A cost-free improvement for the NHS
I have not actually seen the film "The Sense of an Ending" but was sufficiently intrigued by the adverts to buy Julian Barnes's book. There I was delighted to read, put in the mouth of the first person narrator, Tony Webster, sentiments that coincide exactly with my own:
Do you know something I dread? Being an old person in hospital and having nurses I've never met calling me Anthony, or worse, Tony. Let me just pop this in your arm Tony. Have some more of this gruel, Tony. Have you done a motion, Tony?* Of course, by the time this happens, over-familiarity from the nursing staff may be well down my list of anxieties, but even so. (Page 69)
Change "Peter" and "Pete" and that's exactly how I feel, not just in the context of old age and physical incapability, but in all contexts when discussing matters with people I neither know nor am likely to know. (eg buying insurance over the telephone, receiving letters from my Party's leader).
However, Barnes is right (presuming he is airing his own views.) that the situation is most acute in the medical context, when we feel at the most vulnerable. In that situation the last thing we need is to addressed by authority figures in a manner which takes us back to our days in the mixed infants.
So the free improvement for the NHS is that all staff should address people by their honorific (Mr. Mrs, M/s or something posher) and family name and that should be the default position. If patients then prefer their first name, nickname or something more familiar that's fine, but the initiative should come from the patient, not the practitioner.
I am not and never have member of BUPA or any other private medical scheme, but I'm pretty sure that in those places patients are" Mistered" and "Missised" routinely.
More generally, the English language, which is so prolific is most other areas (we have half a million words and counting, compared with a mere 100 000 in French) we have no equivalent of the French Monsieur,
Madame or |Mademoiselle, which can be used indiscriminately without any sense of status difference or servility. The French also get around the difficulty of distinguishing between Missises and Misses by addressing every woman who appears to be over 30 as Madame. (though that may be an unwelcome rite of passage)
In English, outside school, the army, police and high-end department stores , "Sir" and "Madame" sound deferential, and outside Buckingham Palace and detective stories featuring senior female officers I suspect no-one uses the abbreviation "Ma'am" (to rhyme with "jam," not "psalm").
I have no suggested alternatives to make but should be pleased if someone could come up with one to replace "Pall", "Mate" "Squire " (ugh) or nothing at all.
Of course, here in Yorkshire the unisex "Luv" covers all cases
*Barnes himself has dispensed with quotation marks