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Toolkit launched to tackle low health literacy

11 December 2017

Health Education England, in partnership with Public Health England, NHS England and the Community Health and Learning Foundation, have launched a practical resources toolkit to help health staff tackle the challenges caused by low levels of health literacy and improve health outcomes.

43% of English working age adults do not have the health literacy skills to routinely understand health information - 61% if this includes or involves numbers.

According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, health information is ‘too complex’ for more than 60% of working age adults to understand, which means that they are unable to effectively understand and use health information. Those with lower levels of health literacy are more likely to suffer from health inequalities that lead to the poorest health outcomes.

The health literacy toolkit aims to tackle this, offering a suite of resources including a ‘how to’ guide’ and workshop planning to support health care workers with tools and techniques that can be implemented into everyday practice. These small changes can help people to improve their own health and wellbeing and better manage a long-term health condition.

All these resources have been designed so they can be adapted for local use, aiding others adopt similar tried and tested approaches and enabling this work to be replicated at scale and pace.

Janet Flint, National Programme Lead, Population Health and Prevention at Health Education England, said:

Health literacy has a key influence on people’s health behaviours and outcomes and, consequently, their health and wellbeing.

It is important that clinicians are not only able to identify when patients have lower levels of health literacy, but also have the tools to tailor how they provide information to them so that they can understand it. This toolkit shines a light on these tools, and we would encourage all levels of our healthcare staff to review and share with their colleagues.

We are committed to play a key role in helping to prevent ill health and supporting people to live healthier lives.  Encouraging staff to be aware of health literacy, and how they can better convey information to patients, supports our overall objective to developing the workforce with greater skills in general healthcare.

Ann Crawford, Deputy Director of Health, Wellbeing and Workforce Development at Public Health England East Midlands, said:

We know that those with low health literacy are more likely to suffer from health inequalities which can have a serious impact on a person’s health and wellbeing and their day to day lives.

We need to look at the system as a whole and empower people to be able to make informed decisions on their health. This toolkit will increase practitioner awareness of low health literacy and give them the tools they need to have a positive impact upon health behaviours and health outcomes in their patients and service users.

Jonathan Berry, Health Literacy lead at NHS England, said:

People with lower levels of health literacy are less likely to be confident about talking to health professionals, less motivated to engage in decisions about their health and less willing to let clinicians know when they haven’t understood what they have been told. At the same time clinicians are not always likely to spot people with lower levels of health literacy, which means they do not adjust their practice to take account of it.

The toolkit has been trialled and developed by Health Education England, Public Health England, NHS England and Community Health and Learning Foundation in the East Midlands and has successfully been used to train over 230 health care professionals in the region.