NHS Long Term Plan? A medical response to the crippling fatigue suffered by the nation’s under-appreciated teachers? Is that what they wanted to announce? As someone who is married to a teacher, I recognise that this makes sense and is long overdue. But it’s not what Theresa May and her team wanted to launch.
Ok, I accept that no one died and a missing hyphen (not to mention the accompanying rogue capital letter) is not the biggest deal in the world. But it’s also not nothing. The government, the NHS, the prime minister, a major policy announcement, the nation’s press attention – everyone focusing, if only briefly, on something that isn’t Brexit. And they got the name wrong. It isn’t the NHS Long Term Plan, it’s the NHS Long-term Plan. Only it’s not is it? It says so clearly on the lectern, on the wall behind and, in case anyone thought to change it after the event, on the NHS website (and still does).
Fine, everyone understood – we knew what they meant, so what’s the problem?
The problem is that grammar matters and it matters that our leaders get it right. Everyone slips up occasionally but to put something so obviously wrong in such a prominent position at such an important moment suggests either that the people who wrote and produced the ‘logo’ – note that it is designed with two colours and features twice in the same shot, so it’s not a one-off error – either didn’t know that it was wrong or didn’t care.
I want my government and my prime minister to be setting the standard to which others should aspire, not slapping up whatever they can get away with. Many of the pupils at my wife’s primary school would recognise ‘long-term’ as a compound adjective describing the the ‘plan’: two words, in this case an adjective and a noun, combined to create a new, single adjective that explains the noun to which it is attached. Funny thing is, someone knew how to get it right back in September 2018 when the plans were first proposed and the difference is clear. Hyphens do matter. They are our friends.