Health literacy levels in England are very low.

  • 43% of adults aged 16-65 cannot understand word-based health information sufficiently well to make health decisions
  • Where numbers are added in, 61% of adults are unable to understand and act on the information

Watch this short video from Ruth Carlyle from Health Education to tell you more about this.

You can use this Geodatatool to find an estimate of the percentage of a local authority population with low health literacy and numeracy or with just low health literacy.

Why does it matter?

People need trustworthy information to make decisions about health, but Patient Information Forum figures (published in 2020) show that

  • 1 million cannot follow a letter from a GP surgery or hospital department
  • 5 million adults cannot find relevant data in standard health information
  • 1.7 million are unable to explain symptoms and feelings over the phone
  • 6.5 million cannot measure or record height and weight on a chart
  • 9 million people are unable to use digital tools unaided

Health literacy means more than just the ability to read and understand health-related information. It also includes the confidence to navigate healthcare services and make well-informed decisions about self-management.  Health literacy is a life skill for everyone.

How can we make a difference?

People working in health and social care need to be aware of health literacy and of the techniques that can help to increase understanding.

Using techniques for better conversations makes a huge difference to decision making and patient experience.

Want to know more?

This 30-minute session from e-LfH will teach you why health literacy is important and how to use some simple techniques including TeachBack, chunk and check, using pictures and simple language to improve how you communicate and check understanding with others.

For more information, visit

Other Useful Links

The Health Literacy Place (NHS Education for Scotland)

PIF (Patient Information Forum)

NIHR - Health Information Are You Getting Your Message Across?

National Numeracy for Health

Health Literacy UK

Health Education England health literacy toolkit

LeedsLibraries for Health – information for patients and the public -

The Role of NHS Library & Knowledge Services in Health Literacy