Therese Coffey has been caught breaking her own grammar rule after issuing a statement on NHS reform that featured an Oxford comma.
The Health Secretary dislikes the controversial form of punctuation, and an edict was issued to staff at her department banning them from using it.
But she came unstuck on Friday when eagle-eyed medical experts spotted a stray example in one of her official communications.
The Oxford comma is used by some people to distinguish between the last two items on a list, but is seen by critics as unnecessary grammatical clutter. Dr Coffey has previously tweeted her opposition to its use, describing it as “one of my pet hates”.
However, it featured conspicuously in the Health Secretary’s foreword to her Plan for Patients intended to prepare the NHS for the winter.
“Our plan will sit alongside the NHS Long Term Plan, the forthcoming workforce plan, and our plans to reform adult social care,” she wrote.
The apparent grammatical faux-pas was quickly picked up on social media, with medical professionals joking that it was “tremendously embarrassing”.
Dr David Coleman, a GP in Doncaster, tweeted: “Kudos to Therese Coffey for dropping an Oxford comma in her foreword. Grammatical inconsistency or high level trolling?”
Billy Palmer, a policy commentator at the Nuffield Trust, wrote: “It would be tremendously embarrassing if there was an Oxford comma in the Secretary of State's Ministerial foreword. But, of course, that wouldn’t happen. Would it?”
Last week, it emerged that Dr Coffey’s office had emailed staff at the Department of Health and Social Care banning them from using the punctuation. The note, which detailed the new Health Secretary’s “working preferences”, also urged officials to steer clear of technical “jargon”.
The guidance was emailed to workers in Dr Coffey’s department but it was also forwarded to staff at the UK Health Security Agency.
Disgruntled officials described the edict as “extremely patronising”, but allies of the Health Secretary insisted she had not personally seen the message before it was sent out.