The Killing Words (Updated)


I have a medical condition. Thanks to the NHS I take a pill every morning and the condition is controlled. allowing me to live a normal life.

This morning I popped into Boots to pick up my drugs, as I use their excellent prescription renewal service, and ran into a potentially lethal issue around language.

My previous prescription started on the 1st October for “2 months”, however the pills come in packs of 28. So I was given 2 packs of 28, a total of 56 pills, to last 61 days.

You can see the problem. The chemist was very apologetic, had contacted my surgery earlier in the week, but there was nothing they could do without the renewed prescription.

I do not blame them in the least. Nor do I blame my GP.

The problem lies in language. Whenever we are involved in service design we need to be obsessive about driving out any loose terms like “month”.

So back to the chemist’s on Monday and I hope that the prescription is in.

I am lucky, I can safely go for a few days without my medication and I have no difficulties in expressing myself, but others may not be so lucky. I cannot be the only person who finds themselves in this situation. For others the consequences may be much grimmer.

Loose language has no place in service design, that is a basic principle we all need to recognise as we work on developing new services or redeveloping existing ones.


So it is now Tuesday and the prescription has not yet come through. This is going to be a tough week…