Health Literacy

NHS services are for everyone. But many adults in the UK have low health literacy skills. This means they struggle to read and understand medical content intended for the public.

What is health literacy?

Health literacy is about a person’s ability to understand and use information to make decisions about their health.

 A user with low health literacy will generally struggle to:  

  • read and understand health information
  • know how to act on this information
  • know which health services to use and when to use them

Research shows that:

  • more than 4 in 10 adults struggle with health content for the public
  • more than 6 in 10 adults struggle with health content that includes numbers and statistics

This is because a lot of health content is written, often unintentionally, for people with higher health literacy skills.

Why health literacy is important

Low health literacy has been linked to a range of important problems.

These include:

  • unhealthy lifestyles and poor general health
  • low use of preventative services, like vaccinations and screening
  • difficulty taking medicines correctly
  • increased A&E attendances and hospital admissions
  • reduced life expectancy

It’s estimated that health literacy-related problems like these account for up to 5% of national health spending.

Health literacy is also a health inequality issue. There is a close link between socio-economic deprivation and low health literacy.

For more NHS information about health literacy, please go to the NHS Digital Sevices Manual here:

There are many different subjects that affect health literacy and Cornwall Health Library has resources about many of these areas.

Please scroll down for more information about these:

E-resource Links

Health Literacy – eLearning for healthcareNHS Education for Scotland (NES) and Health Education England (HEE) have collaborated to develop a new, free elearning module for people working in health and care to understand the role health literacy plays in the health and social care systems.

The elearning resource takes about 30 mins to complete. At the end of the module learners will know why health literacy is important and how to use some simple techniques including TeachBack, chunk and check, using pictures and simple language to improve communication and check understanding with others. After each section learners complete an action plan detailing how they plan to use the techniques in practice. This plan can be used as evidence of learning in appraisals or professional portfolios.
NHS Document Readability Tool This tool works by copying your text into the tool and it works out how readable your text is for the UK reading age, how long the text takes to read, which complex sentences need to be broken down etc.

The tool works by analysing submitted text and splitting it into paragraphs and single words. Words are also analysed for syllable content. Words with 4 or more syllables are classed as long words. Replacing longer words with simpler alternatives will help reduce the overall reading age of the text. The average reading age in the UK is 9, so text readability should be a close to 9 as possible, although 13 or below is also a good result.
Health Literacy: Prevalence Estimates for Local AuthoritiesProvided by NHS England and the University of Southampton, this tool provides an estimate of the percentage of a local authority population with low health literacy and numeracy or with just low health literacy. It draws on the most recent national survey of literacy and numeracy in England (the 2011 Skills for Life Survey) with a population update based on the 2021 Census and the 2019 Index of Deprivation.

To search by local authority, select either “health literacy alone” or “health literacy and numeracy combined”. Then enter the name of the local authority using lower tier local authority names i.e. the local council (district or borough).  Alternatively, you can search using the map view.
The Health Literacy PlaceProvided by The Scottish Health Literacy Action Plan Implementation Group (SHLAPIG), this website gives you information on health literacy, including a toolkit that you can use for all areas of healthcare including Teach back, Use Simple Language, Chunk and Check, Use Pictures and help with paperwork. It can also update you on news about health literacy in all areas in the UK and has links to other resources in health literacy research and practice.

Books in Stock

We are constantly updating our stock but here are some of the titles that will help you to learn more about health and information literacy.  

If you have any suggestions for stock or any other queries, please email

Under construction:

Health literacy from A to Z : practical ways to communicate your health message
Information literacy through theory
Combatting online health misinformation

Health Literacy

Health Literacy in a NutshellHealth literacy in a nutshell : a practical guide to health communication
International Handbook of Health Literacy : Research, Practice and Policy Across the Life-Span
International handbook of health literacy : research, practice and policy across the life-span
Developing health literacy skills in children and youthDeveloping health literacy skills in children and youth : proceedings of a workshop
Health Literacy and Child Health OutcomesHealth literacy and child health outcomes : promoting effective health communication strategies to improve quality of care
Health literacy among older adults (eBook)Health literacy among older adults (eBook)

Information Literacy

The Art and Science of Patient Education for Health LiteracyThe art and science of patient education for health literacy
Uncertainty in MedicineUncertainty in medicine : a framework for tolerance
Health Literacy in Context- Settings, Media, and PopulationsHealth literacy in context – settings, media and populations

Patient Information

Communication in Nursing
Communication in nursing
Effective Communication for Nursing Associates
Effective communication for nursing associates
Relational Care
Relational care : improving communication in healthcare
The Bedside Communication HandbookThe bedside communication handbook : speaking with patients and families
Bedside Matters
Bedside matters : a journey through doctor-patient communication
Patient and Person
Patient & person : interpersonal skills in nursing
Core competencies of civility in nursing & healthcareCore competencies of civility in nursing & healthcare
Diagnosketch Diagnosketch : a visual guide to medical diagnosis for the non-medical audience

Patient Consultation

The Art of Medical CommunicationThe art of medical communication : bringing the humanities into clinical practice
History Taking and Communication Skill Stations for Internal Medicine Examinations
History taking and communication skill stations : for internal medicine examinations
Reconsidering Patient Centred CareReconsidering patient centred care : between autonomy and abandonment
improving person-centered innovation of nursing careImproving person-centered innovation of nursing care : leadership for change
Understanding Person-Centred Care for Nursing Associates
Understanding person-centred care for nursing associates
Finding What Matters Most to Patients
Finding what matters most to patients : forming the foundation for better care
Dignity in CareDignity in care : the human side of medicine
The Art and Science of Person-Centered CareSkill checklists for Fundamentals of nursing : the art and science of person-centered care

Mental Health

Improving the mental health consultationImproving the mental health consultation : introducing a short circuit tool to aid patient understanding and dispel stigma
Mental Health Literacy and Young People
Mental health literacy and young people
Communicating with FamiliesCommunicating with families : taking the language of mental health from research to practice

Health Literacy & Diversity

Multicultural Health Translation, Interpreting and Communication
Multicultural health translation, interpreting and communication
Diversity and Cultural Awareness in Nursing Practice
Diversity and cultural awareness in nursing practice
Health equity and nursingHealth equity and nursing : achieving equity through policy, population health, and interprofessional collaboration

Page last reviewed: 13 March 2024

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