Tag Archives: Health Literacy

KfH blog celebrating key milestones and success

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Søren Kierkegaard

As we come to end of 2020 and look forward to a new year of opportunities, building on the great work already done, it is a good time to reflect on all that has been achieved in the health literacy and patient information workstream since 2016.

In our first blog posting, Carol-Ann Regan and Natasha Howard described how approaching senior stakeholders in their Trusts had led to the development of work to support patient information. https://kfh.libraryservices.nhs.uk/stps-and-patient-information/

Those initial conversations led to the development of a toolkit of ideas to help us all to make the case and understand the drivers for librarians and knowledge specialists to support patient information. Good practice was also shared in the Ideas Bank. Different ways of supporting patient information were identified, from providing evidence for patient information leaflets, signposting information accessible to all and training volunteers and healthcare professionals to find quality, evidence-based information online.

Although we have a key role in supporting patient information, partnership working with other information providers, healthcare professionals and organisations is needed. In 2018/19, a group taking the Health Education England funded CILIP Leadership Development Programme formed a Health Information Team. With representatives from Trusts, NICE, Public Health England and the voluntary sector, they worked together to develop a regional initiative called Health Information Week into a national one. https://kfh.libraryservices.nhs.uk/new-resources-for-health-information-week-2018/

Different health information teams have worked to support us and in 2020 our “do once and share” approach saw a new logo and branding, poster templates, and a social media toolkit – quick and easy ways to enable us all to participate. Health Information Week in July is now part of our yearly calendars. https://kfh.libraryservices.nhs.uk/health-information-week-2020-hiw2020-have-your-say/

In 2018, we began to prioritise raising awareness of the importance of Health literacy amongst the healthcare workforce, enabling them to recognise the impact that low health literacy has for patients, carers and our healthcare system. The key statistics show 43% adults aged 16-65 do not understand words-based health information sufficiently well to act on it; when numbers are added, 61% adults aged 16-65 do not understand. Truly shocking statistics which have implications for both individuals and the health system. Health literacy month in October is also a fixture in our calendar each year and exciting things are planned in the next 5 years https://kfh.libraryservices.nhs.uk/health-literacy-underpinned-by-digital-literacy-for-the-21st-century/

Our lives have changed hugely since the start of 2020. Reflecting on the changes, participants in the HEE funded Senior Leadership Development programme described how Health hasn’t been just the primary concern for health and care professionals or those individuals with health conditions, it has been the predominant topic for everybody globally.” This blog encourages us all to share examples where we have supported patients and healthcare professionals during the pandemic. https://kfh.libraryservices.nhs.uk/one-year-on-a-global-pandemic-highlights-the-importance-of-evidence-based-patient-information/

Our key role to support patients and colleagues to be health literate, to make best use of health information and the health service, is even more pressing. The shortlisting of the coronavirus resources site for an HSJ award is amazing https://library.nhs.uk/coronavirus-resources

Alongside our roles in health literacy and patient information, we have also been proactive in providing resources to support the health and wellbeing of all: an ever-growing and ever-more important resource. Look out for further news in 2021.

There is a huge amount to celebrate and be proud of as we have adapted, upskilled, and collaborated. If you want to know more please contact Ruth Carlyle or Sue Robertson.

Health literacy, underpinned by digital literacy, for the 21st Century

Informed, empowered and healthy digital citizens:

Health literacy, underpinned by digital literacy, for the 21st Century

 What is our aim?

Health Education England (HEE) and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) are working together to support citizens to develop the skills that they will need to access, assess and use health information in an increasingly digital environment.

Health literacy: the issue to be addressed

Health literacy is the ability to access, critically review and use health information to make informed decisions.

With increasingly digital-first health services, citizens need health literacy skills underpinned by digital literacy.

The levels of health literacy in England are very low. Research by Rowlands et al (2015) shows that 43% adults aged 16-65 do not understand words-based health information sufficiently well to act on it; when numbers are added, 61% adults aged 16-65 do not understand.

How will we be working together?

We are inviting key partner organisations to join us to establish a ‘sustainable, common information environment through which skilled librarians and information providers support and empower digitally and health literate citizens’.

HEE is committed to a five-year initiative through which ‘health librarians will partner with a variety of information providers, supporting digital and health literacy’. We look forward to working with partners, each able to bring their expertise to the partnership and, for example, to share experience, learning and other resources.

As a first step, we brought organisations together for a virtual round table on 20th August. The round table demonstrated an appetite to develop a joint programme of work, with collaboration where appropriate also on parallel activities.

What will be the focus of the partnership?

Information workers across sectors are ideally placed to develop the health literacy skills and underpinning digital literacy skills of citizens. Many NHS library and knowledge staff are already working locally with information workers in their local communities, such as public library staff and community pharmacists, to provide training on health literacy techniques. We will expand the sharing of tools, such as the Health Literacy e-learning and geodata on variation in local health literacy levels. Local partnerships will embed skills for citizens.

If you have ideas for initiatives or are interested in partnership, please contact knowledgeforhealthcare.england@hee.nhs.uk

Ruth Carlyle @RuthCarlyle


Health literacy – What’s the story?

There has been a lot of talk about health literacy in the health library and knowledge community over the last couple of years.  Health Education England worked with partners to deliver awareness and train the trainer sessions across England.  Although we were not surprised at the positive response from our colleagues to this programme, we have been heartened and encouraged by the engagement within the health community and beyond.

One of the best ways to illustrate the impact of low health literacy is to share personal stories.  Participants in the training programme generously gave examples of their own issues with health literacy.  Inspired by this, we thought now might be a good time to share some stories from library and knowledge services on their own experiences of delivering health literacy awareness training and the impact this has had both on them personally and on their services.  Here are just a couple of examples of what’s been happening:


Sylvia Hughes, Senior Library Assistant, Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust

“Last year I helped to deliver health literacy awareness training to library staff from across the North of England.  As I read the feedback from participants, one or two comments reflected the same things that I had been thinking myself when I first heard the suggestion that NHS Libraries were well placed to support the provision of health information to the public and patient: how exactly, could I, as an NHS library assistant, do that?  How could the Library have any impact on information for patients within my Trust, for example, to front-line staff dealing with patient enquiries in the out-patient clinic or the consultant responding to a patient question in the consultation room?

I first got involved in information for patients and the public in 2015.  Our Library and Knowledge Service was looking for ways to supporting patients and carers and I was considering which topic to choose for my MSc dissertation.  The more I began to read about health inequalities, and how poor health literacy can impact negatively on everyone’s health, I began to think what an opportunity this could be for library staff to contribute to supporting the patient AND professional.  Having looked for opportunities to get involved with health literacy and supporting patient information, working with senior nurses and patient information staff, our Library produced and distributed a simple ‘Patients’ guide to health information’ which can now be found in patient areas.  I have now joined our Trust patient information panel, regularly reviewing patient information leaflets, and am hoping to feed awareness of health literacy into our own patient information protocol.  I completed my dissertation (and my MSc!) entitled ‘The informed patient and role of the Library’ in 2018.

Working alongside fellow library staff, we plan to run further health literacy awareness training in our Trusts as a means raise awareness and support staff further in producing patient health information.  But even just noticing and helping the ‘lost’ patient navigating their way around endless hospital corridors via numerous hospital signs (which may not be really helping the patient find their way around) plays a part.  We can also raise awareness of the need to produce information from the patient’s point of view.  We sometimes take our own knowledge and skills for granted when sharing information in our own Libraries (for instance, using the unhelpful term ‘health literacy!’).

I think that we are very well placed to meet the challenge to contribute, to support and help to fill that health information knowledge gap. We are experts in finding, appraising, and delivering information for our readers.  With a little bit of self-reflection, we are also able to imagine the emotion we all feel when faced with an overwhelming whole ‘universe’ of health information, or as one patient told me ‘gobbledygook!’


Rachel Steele, Librarian, Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust

“I very much enjoyed delivering health literacy training to a group of library and information services staff members in January 2020 and I hope to deliver more training in the future.  I had participated in previous ‘train the trainer’ sessions organised by the Community Health and Learning Foundation and Health Education England.  These sessions were absolutely invaluable in imparting the knowledge and skills I required to act as a trainer in this area.  The framework conceptualised health literacy as a two-sided coin – the personal and the societal.  Myself and my co-trainers used this framework in our training and it seemed to work well.

Exercises were a key part of the training I delivered.  We asked participants to undertake exercises to practise the techniques of ‘teach back’ and ‘chunk and check’ and we also used exercises originally devised by the Community Health and Learning Foundation designed to give participants an appreciation of how it feels to have low health literacy and not to understand information which is being imparted.  I won’t say too much as to the nature of the exercise (as this may ‘spoil’ the element of surprise in subsequent training!) but acting as trainer in this exercise made me feel as though I was being unkind to participants which made me feel a bit uncomfortable.  It is, however, important that people do gain an appreciation of what it is like to live with low health literacy to fully understand the themes raised and we tried to deal with participants feelings in the ‘de-brief’ following the exercise.  By having a de-brief, they were able to understand why the trainers had behaved as they did and that no malign motives were intended on our part!

I intend to deliver health literacy training in conjunction with others in my Trust to groups in future, in particular to junior doctors as part of regular slots on postgraduate medical education programmes.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems increasingly likely that future training will be delivered using virtual training approaches.  I believe these can work well, especially if software is used to share trainers’ screens so that exercises can be displayed for participants to work on.

I would very much encourage others to participate in health literacy training themselves and look for opportunities to deliver health literacy training in their Trusts.  Health literacy is a very important issue (particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic) and it is therefore vital to raise awareness of it in our various local contexts.”


Now more than ever, health literacy is vitally important and impacts both on the individual and on the whole of society.  If these stories have inspired you to get involved and you would like some more information, training or advice, contact Ruth, Sue, Holly, Catherine or Joanne or email KFH.england@hee.nhs.uk

Joanne Naughton
HEE LKS Development Manager