Louise McVicker

Let’s be clear about Health Literacy: Event Report

A big thank you to presenters and delegates joining us at today’s seminar ‘Building Accessible, Inclusive Digital Health & Social Care Services’. Attracting NHS professionals from around the UK, the successful event was held at health and social care charity The King’s Fund in London’s Cavendish Square. You can catch all the news from the day by following #DigiHSCS on Twitter.

We live in an increasingly self-serve world, doing our shopping and banking online. But as Texthelp Healthcare Manager Jason Gordon notes, take-up of digital health services – like online GP appointments and prescriptions – remains stubbornly low.

Dr Joanne Protheroe is a researcher at Keele University who also chairs Health Literacy UK. Drawing on her own experiences as a GP in Manchester, Joanne outlined the challenges that millions of patients face in accessing and understanding relevant information to make informed decisions about their own health. Health literacy (HL) isn’t just about making printed leaflets easier to read, Jo stressed. It touches every aspect of the patient experience, from web sites to hospital signage and the built environment.

Sarah White from national deafblind charity Sense is also an NHS audiologist. Developed by NHS England and partners, the new Accessible Information Standard ensures that people with disability or sensory loss can get information in the right format for them, as well as any support they need to communicate. Citing her own research, Sarah confirmed a real desire among patients with sensory impairments to be greater champions of their own healthcare experience with less reliance on family, friends and carers. From 31st July last year, all providers of NHS care services were legally obliged to follow the standard. 

Catherine Carter is lead trainer at Change, a human rights organisation led by disabled people. Catherine documented the experiences of her own colleagues with disabilities, and the challenges they’ve faced through lack of accessible healthcare information. From large print books and jargon-busting language to braille and signing, ‘accessibility’ means different things to different people. The Change team of quality checkers oversees the design and implementation of all the charity’s communications, including an award-winning ‘Independence Pack’ for people with intellectual impairments.  

NHS Digital Programme Manager Nicola Gill heads the pioneering Widening Digital Participation programme. With over 12m people in the UK lacking basic computer skills, the move to a more digitised NHS threatens to exclude the very people it’s pledged to help. Phase 1 of the trail-blazing WDP initiative has already engaged almost 390,000 people, generating NHS savings of £6 million in terms of reduced GP appointments and unneeded A&E visits. As Nicola explained, Phase 2 now looks to embed digital inclusion more deeply in all NHS systems and processes, from planning to performance management. It will also foster improved partnerships with other digital initiatives in government, industry and the voluntary sector. 

The inspiring session was wrapped by Scott Durairaj, National Programme Delivery Director for the Nursing Directorate at NHS England. Scott presented headline data on Patient and Public Participation, highlighting a range of Sustainable Transformation Plans (STPs) to improve the efficiency of prevention, diagnosis and primary care. Referencing the new Accessible Information Standard as a ‘once in a generation opportunity’, he stressed the need to actively challenge the design of healthcare services that may disadvantage others, even unintentionally. Ensuring accessible information, says Scott, is everyone’s responsibility – not just your colleagues’. Keep up with Scott on Twitter @ScottDurairaj.


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