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FactCheck: Were Irish hospital staff told to stop calling patients 'love' or 'dear'?

Yesterday it was described as political correctness “gone mad”, but did the HSE even say it?

YESTERDAY A NUMBER of reports circulated claiming that hospital staff in Ireland have been told to stop using pet names with patients.

The reports cited new HSE rules telling healthcare workers not to use names like ‘love’ or ‘dear’. 

Where did the claim come from?

The front page of the Irish Daily Mail yesterday featured a report which stated hospital staff should no longer call patients ‘dear’, ‘love’, ‘boys’, or ‘lads’. The paper reported this was part of “strict new rules for employees” unveiled by the HSE. 

The Irish Examiner also reported HSE staff had been “told they can no longer call patients dear, love or boys”. 

The Irish Times reported nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals have been “urged not to call patients ‘love’ or ‘dear’”.

And The Guardian newspaper in the UK  published a story with the headline: Irish hospital staff told to stop calling patients ‘love’ or ‘dear’.

It cited the HSE’s response to a national patient experience survey published last week, and stated that under new recommendations, healthcare staff should no longer call patients by pet names. 

Several articles quoted a consultant at the Mater hospital in Dublin who described the move as political correctness “gone mad”. 

The story was discussed on several radio and TV shows yesterday and on social media. 

What does the HSE report actually say?

The report these articles referenced is called: Listening, Responding and Improving – The HSE response to the findings of the National Patient Experience Survey.

Columnist Colette Browne yesterday highlighted the context of the report, which is 112 pages long and details the various initiatives and programmes the HSE is working on to improve the experiences of patients in hospitals. 

The focus of the articles was on one page in this 112 report, which provides information about a programme involving some staff to examine the language used with patients. 

The brief reference to pet names is included in a section about the HSE’s ‘programme to enable cultures of person-centredness’.

It describes the work that is being undertaken as part of the programme, including “language exercises” to examine the language used by staff and whether or not it is “person-centred”. 

The report gives the example of a healthcare worker referring to a person by their bed or room number, or by their diagnosis. Then it goes on to mention pet names:

Are collective names used where the person’s name would be more appropriate, do they use pet names such as dear or love, girls, boys, lads etc instead of the patients/colleagues names?
Do we talk about ‘feeding people’ instead of assisting with meals or refer to someone coming back from theatre as ‘the hip’ /the hernia/knee etc. This is a powerful exercise to help raise awareness of how de-personalising some commonly used language can be.

It does not state that staff have been told not to use this language, rather that some staff – those participating in the programme – are being asked to look at whether these terms are appropriate.

We asked the HSE if it has issued any directives or recommendations to staff at hospitals in relation to the use of pet names. 

A spokesperson confirmed there is no ban on pet names and no new rules have been given to staff on the use of language. They said staff in 18 hospitals have participated in this programme, which is focused on encouraging workers to look at how they communicate with patients.

The aim is to help staff to think in a more patient-centred way so they can use their discretion and choose the best and most appropriate manner of communicating with each individual patient, they said.

“Quality Improvement plans, including the programme specifically referred to on Cultures of Person Centredness, is an evidenced-based programme designed to improve patient experience across healthcare services,” they said.


We rate this claim as FALSE.’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

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