Health Literacy Month

October is Health Literacy Month. For the last 20 years, organisations across the world have used October as an opportunity to raise awareness of health literacy.

So what is health literacy?

Health literacy is the ability to access, understand, appraise and use health information to make health-related decisions. In the UK, we know from work by Gill Rowlands that 43% adults struggle with text-based health information; rising to 61% if the health information includes numbers as well as text.

Health and social care staff need to be aware of health literacy issues to support access to information. Techniques such as “teach back” and “chunk and check” can increase understanding and the ability of individuals to own decisions about their health and wellbeing.

What is the local impact? This Health Literacy Month we are launching borough-level data on health literacy levels, for textual content and for health information that includes both text and numbers. This is analysis provided by Gill Rowlands and academic colleagues at the University of Southampton. We hope that this dataset will enable you to raise the profile of the issue locally and to prioritise activity.

What can NHS library and knowledge services do?

NHS library and knowledge services are well placed to advise colleagues on techniques to support people with low health literacy, to sign-post to patient information materials and to provide training. The health literacy toolkit includes a range of resources and guidance on techniques. We are currently cascading training to library and knowledge services staff, with a suite of materials in development to use in 2020.

How can I use Health Literacy Month?

Health Literacy Month provides an opportunity to have conversations about health literacy. These may be conversations within your service, using the toolkit to assess how you might be more health-literacy friendly. Or, they may be conversations with colleagues in other departments, or with partner organisations. There are international resources available to help you to add profile to Health Literacy Month.

If you would like to share ideas, do get in touch. Ruth Carlyle, Ruth.Carlyle@hee.nhs.uk, Strategic Lead NHS library and knowledge services – East of England and Midlands

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