We are a special interest group of the Society for Academic Primary Care who are interested in building the evidence base for Health Literacy. Our approach explores the impact of Health Literacy on people and their lives, and supports national policy to reduce inequalities.

We work together to discuss and develop new research ideas, run research projects, write reports and research papers, and support implementation of research findings into practice. There are also regular face-to-face meetings, discussions of ideas and collaborative work through our website. Membership is free.

We welcome patients and patient groups, health care practitioners and providers, teachers, policy makers, non-government organisations, and academics. 

What is health literacy and why is it important?

Health literacy skills are those needed to gain access to, understand, and use information to promote and maintain health. At its most basic, health literacy involves functional literacy, numeracy, and ICT skills for understanding health information, but also includes skills to evaluate and apply health information in changing contexts. In addition, patients with these skills can use information to take control over environmental and social factors affecting health (critical health literacy).

How big a problem is health literacy in England?

We know that levels of functional health literacy are low in England. Health information in current circulation is written at too complex a level for 43% of working age adults (16-65 years); this figure rises to 61% if the health information includes numeracy. We do not know how many people are additionally burdened by low interactive and critical health literacy skills but numbers are likely to be even higher. 

We also know that low health literacy has real effects on health and illness. In England, older people with low health literacy have higher mortality. Research from the US and Europe shows people with low health literacy are more likely to have a long-term health condition and this is more likely to limit their activities. People with low health literacy rate their health as lower than people with higher health literacy levels; people with low health literacy and lower educational levels are more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles. 

Health literacy is a social determinant of health and is strongly linked with other social determinants such as poverty, unemployment and membership of a minority ethnic group. Where health literacy differs from these other social factors is that it is, potentially, open to change through improving health systems and building patient and public awareness and skills. 

RCGP and NHS England Call for Action

In view of the importance of health literacy, and the central role of GPs in addressing the issue, NHS England sponsored a RCGP- led workshop on the issue. This has resulted in the following: 

A call for Action at the College and NHS England to work together to improve GP training in health literacy

Work with CCGs to consider health literacy when commissioning health services

Develop pilot projects where GPs can refer patients for skills courses

Develop national guidelines for the literacy and numeracy aspects of health information. 

This articles forms part of an RCGP newsletter available from http://www.rcgp.org.uk/





Our current list of stakeholders is:


  • Primary and Community Health Trusts
  • Hospital Trusts
  • Government Departments (Health and Education)
  • The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education
  • Health academics
  • Educational academics
  • Non-government organisations
  • Citizens Advice Bureaux
  • Health care practitioners
  • Service users
  • Local authorities