The Texthelp Team and PIF

Health literacy challenge and the NHS Long Term Plan

The NHS Expo aims to “inspire leaders and clinicians to make improvements for patients and service users,” with almost three-quarters pledging to start new projects or initiatives after visiting. It unites people from right across the health and social care sector to share experiences, learn from each other, and find solutions. 

This year’s Expo is focused on bringing the NHS Long Term Plan to life. With that in mind, we sat down with our partners for the Expo, the Patient Information Forum, to explore what the Long Term Plan lays out and what it means for the future of health literacy.

Manchester cityscape with Texthelp colour fade

A time for change

Our society is ever-changing, and with that comes a shift in healthcare needs, an ageing population and increasing inequalities in healthcare provisions. This means that the NHS needs to continually move forward so that in the next 10 years there will be a health service fit for the future, which is where the NHS Long Term Plan comes in. The NHS Long Term Plan has been drawn up by frontline staff, patient groups and national experts. It’s purposely ambitious but realistic

The overarching theme is about giving patients more options, better support, and joined-up care at the right time, in the right care setting.  However, the plan is broken down into specific areas of focus, including:

  • More NHS action on prevention and health inequalities
  • NHS staff will get the backing they need
  • Digitally-enabled care will go mainstream across the NHS

Health inequalities

The NHS has recognised actions it needs to take to strengthen its contribution to prevention and health inequalities. In particular, the plan places a focus on national prevention and better care for six priority areas where health inequality is rife: cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, respiratory disease and adult mental health; as well as placing a focus on the needs of children and the elderly. 

With this increased focus, NHS England will base its funding allocations to local areas on more accurate assessments of health inequalities and unmet needs. As a condition of receiving Long Term Plan funding, all major national programmes and every local area across England will be required to set out specific measurable goals and mechanisms by which they will contribute to narrowing health inequalities over the next five and ten years. This is a great step to ensuring everyone has the same access to and understanding of their own healthcare needs.

Meeting the needs of NHS staff

The Long Term Plan also sets out how current workforce pressures will be tackled so that NHS staff are appropriately supported. The NHS is the biggest employer in Europe and the world’s largest employer of highly skilled professionals. But it’s widely recognised that staff are feeling the strain. 

This is partly because workforce growth has not kept up with the increasing demands on the NHS over the past decade, and partly because the NHS hasn’t been sufficiently flexible and responsive to the needs of its staff. Many of those leaving the NHS have said they would remain if their employers could reduce workload pressures and offer improved flexibility and professional development. The plan also recognises that international recruitment will be significantly expanded over the next three years. 

With all of this in mind, it’s important that the NHS recognises the diverse needs of each of their employees and is committed to taking steps to fully support and equip all their staff, including those with disabilities and those from overseas, with the tools they need to truly make a difference

Moving towards a fully digital NHS

The plan also sets out the NHS’s commitment to upgrade technologies and to digitally enable care across the NHS..This investment will result in an NHS where digital access to services is widespread. Patients and their caregivers will be able to better manage their health and condition. And clinicians will be able to access and interact with patient records and care plans wherever they are, without the administrative hassle of today. 

As the NHS moves towards the goal of widespread digital services, it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same access and ability to use digital assets and tools. In setting out plans and goals in this area, we urge the NHS to also consider the patients and caregivers with low literacy, including health and digital literacy, and put in place mechanisms whereby there is equity of access to information and services.

According to the Patient Information Forum, “The provision of high-quality, evidenced based information, co-created with users is fundamental to the success of the plan. And as the digital tools and care structures become ever more sophisticated it is essential that they meet the digital and health literacy of the most vulnerable populations, otherwise there is a risk the health divide will widen. This signposting and support will be particularly important for new elements of personalised care like social prescribing. 

It is also fundamentally important for NHS England to draw on the range of high-quality digital tools and services already available from national charities and ensure they are signposted via the NHS App and Summary Care Record.”

With an increasingly international workforce, the NHS will also need to consider the needs of its staff. Recruiting nurses and doctors from overseas means that their first language may not always be English. Therefore, they may need some assistance navigating online information and healthcare systems. 

With all this in mind, we’re really excited to hear from all of the speakers and session hosts at this year’s NHS Expo, and we can’t wait to hear about the Long Term Plan and all the ways in which it will revolutionise the NHS and health literacy. 

If you’re interested in the ways that we can support the areas of focus set out in the Plan, pop by stand 107 and chat with our experts. 


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