Health and digital literacy partnership provides local learning for better health

Nearly half the adults in England (43%) struggle to read and understand written health information. When that health information includes numbers as well as words, that rises to 61%.  At the same time, along with many aspects of daily life, information about health and wellbeing is now widely available via the internet, and healthcare services are becoming increasingly digitised.

To help address this issue and empower patients, families and carers, Health Education England’s NHS knowledge and library services team is working with CILIP, the library and information association, to co-lead a partnership to improve health and digital literacy at a local level.

With Libraries Connected, the strategic lead for public libraries, and Arts Council England, which supports community initiatives, the partners are working together to develop a sustainable approach to improve health literacy.

Local pilot partnerships will assess how existing information services can embed activities that equip members of the public with the skills that they will need to find, assess and use health information in an increasingly digital environment.  

Health Education England has funded an initial eight pilot projects to test out different ways in which this can be achieved, while CILIP is managing and co-ordinating the pilot programme nationally. 

Sue Lacey Bryant, National Lead for NHS Knowledge and Library Services said: “Our goal is to understand the most effective ways to enable people to develop the skills they need to find, assess and use health information to make informed choices in our digital age. We can then share and spread these approaches across the country, giving people the opportunity to better understand health information, manage their own health issues.

“If we are to tackle health inequalities, it is crucial that communities come together to improve levels of health and digital literacy. And there are no organisations better placed to do this than local public and health libraries right in the heart of the communities they know and understand.

“I am thrilled that we are able to support these eight local projects. They are about to begin work and we’re confident we will get a good return on investment. They will provide a wealth of insight into how library teams can be most effective and we will build on the findings to equip communities to support more people to better health.”

The eight projects will begin work soon and it is anticipated the varied range of projects will provide a wealth of insight into how best to create a sustainable approach to increasing health and digital literacy.

Projects awarded the funding are:

  • Health Click Haverhill – Suffolk Libraries and NHS Knowledge and Library Service, West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust 

Focused on local community in Haverhill, with enhanced health information offer in town library and outreach to key groups.  

  • Digital Health Hub – Easy Read Provision – Norfolk Libraries and NHS Knowledge and Library Services 

Extending existing Digital Health Hub to provide Easy-Read shared decision making tools       

  • BASE Health Literacy Trainer –  West Midlands Library consortium of 21 NHS libraries, based around Birmingham and the Black Country                     

Contribution to costs of Health Literacy Trainer to work with staff, patients and local community organisations 

  • Your Health Admin  – Shropshire Libraries and NHS Knowledge and Library Service, Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust 

Design of Your Health Admin toolkit for Shropshire residents, and upskilling of library staff to become Digital Health Champions using Digital Unite training package          

  • Be Your Health – Staffordshire Libraries and NHS Knowledge and Library Services,  Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust and Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust 

Co-design of health and digital literacy actions with 16-25 year olds, including resource kits, community outreach and use of social media 

  • Health Literacy Within Library Based Digital Health Hubs  – Leeds Libraries and NHS Knowledge and Library Services across Leeds

Employing additional (0.5) librarian to extend role of digital health hubs including developing digital champions and resources on learning platform 

  • Addressing Low Health and Digital Literacy Across Lancashire – Lancashire Library Service and NHS Knowledge and Library Services across Lancashire

Development of online health information hub, and cascading health literacy training to public library staff           

  • WHAT IF – Wellbeing, Health and Technology Information for All – Somerset Libraries and NHS Knowledge and Library Service, Somerset NHS Foundation Trust

Creation of Digital Health Hubs in libraries in Taunton and Yeovil, including digital health volunteers and loan of designated health iPads    

The compact signatory organisations are joined by a wide group of partners in this activity, including NHS England/Improvement, the Patient Information Forum, The Reading Agency, patient representatives and representatives of specific professional groups, such as pharmacists and prison librarians.

There is more information on the NHS knowledge for healthcare professionals website