2015 Progress against aims and objectives


The Health Literacy Research Group was founded in March 2007 by Professor Rowlands and was awarded Special Interest Group status by the Society for Academic Primary Care (SAPC) the same year. Since its inception it has become a vibrant group continuing to deliver on its objectives and actively supporting the development of the research evidence base for Health Literacy (HL) in England. This report describes our conference and seminars, highlights achievements over the last year, and describes plans for taking the group forward.

Aims of the group

  • To build a ‘critical mass’ of stakeholders interested in HL research in England;
  • To share skills, experience and ideas;
  • To develop the evidence base in HL in England.

Objectives of the group

  • To support health literacy research and service development that influences policy and practice
  • To develop a membership mix incorporating a diverse range of key stakeholders including a variety of expertise and national coverage
  • To identify and prioritise the needs of members and develop a strategy focused on meeting such needs
  • To ensure sustainability of the group

Report on progress against aims and objectives

Developing a ‘critical mass’ of stakeholders.

Membership is via the group website www.healthliteracy.org.uk. Membership continues to grow and is currently 798 registered members and a ‘Twitter’ following of 995 members come from a wide range of backgrounds including:

  • Health and Education practitioners;
  • NHS Trusts – primary care, acute and specialist;
  • Health and Education academics;
  • Local government
  • Policy makers
  • Patient / disease-specific charities
  • Non-Government organisations.

We have members from the three devolved nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and from outside the UK – Hong Kong, the US, Canada, Israel, Australia, Spain and the Netherlands.

Sharing skills and experience.


In the summer of 2014 we held a national conference entitled ‘Health Literacy – Healthy Living’ in Keele Hall at Keele University. We had three exciting keynote lectures giving a

view on current evidence, impact and future implications of health literacy research from UK, Europe and US perspectives – Prof Gill Rowlands (UK); Dr Kristine Sorensen (Netherlands) and Prof Michael Wolf (US).

We had parallel presentations of original research and service development projects from the UK and abroad, and poster presentations. Feedback from those attending was excellent, and we plan to hold another conference in Glasgow in March 2016.  


In addition to the conference, we have continued to run our themed seminars around the UK. These have continued to be exciting and well-attended meetings.

The seminars we held in 2014/15 were:

  • Health Literacy and Physical Activity (Nottingham), February 2014
    • This seminar highlighted the links between health literacy and physical activity.  Prof Cris Glazebrook presented her work on helping children and young people build self-efficacy for physical activity and the role of health literacy.  This was followed by Rebecca Duncombe’s presentation on issues and needs around promoting physical activity in secondary Schools.  Finally, Cath Jackson presented on how health literacy is integrated into a council-run GP exercise referral programme (S.W.I.T.C.H 2).  A lively discussion followed - exploring key messages and evidence gaps, key audience(s) for dissemination and dissemination formats, and actions for impact.
  • Health Literacy and Ageing (University of Swansea), October 2014
    • This seminar was organised in collaboration with OPAN Cymru, the Older People & Ageing Research & Development Network and saw key speakers take the platform to share some of their research. Dr Andrea De Winter from IROHLA gave an overview of work co-ordinated by the University Medical Centre Groningen. Dr Michelle Edwards from Swansea University gave an update of her latest project looking at health literacy in the social networks of older people living with a long-term condition. Lindsey Kobayashi, from UCL, looked at her work with colleagues which analyses data from ELSA. Finally, Professor Brian Finsden, Waikato University, New Zealand, gave a wide-ranging talk about older people and lifelong-learning, including the benefits of the Men-in-Sheds movement. 
  • Improving health information to promote health literacy (University of Leeds), March 2015
    • This seminar aimed to generate discussions and action plans on how health information can be improved to promote health literacy.  Prof Gill Rowlands set the scene by presenting the scope of the problem on health literacy and health information in England.  This was followed by Prof Theo Raynor’s presentation on what we can learn from developing medicines information for patients; and finally Dr Peter Gardner talked about factors influencing the perception of side effect risk information.  In the afternoon session, Laura Bolland provided an update from the Information Standard.  This was followed by two parallel group discussions wherein participants shared good practice on how to make health information easier to read and understand; and how a strategy can be developed to incorporate health literacy into the development of nationally available health information materials. 

Seminar presentations are available for download via the website www.healthliteracy.org.uk .                

Policy Initiatives

In May 2014 we wrote the foreword to the Community Health and Learning Foundation (CHLF) policy briefing; Health Literacy: the agenda we cannot afford to ignore. This was widely circulated to policy makers and senior strategists across the UK. We also co-wrote, with CHLF, a shortened version of the briefing which was circulated, March 2015, to front bench spokespeople for health and the House of Commons Health Select Committee.


Our website continues to be a very valuable resource for the group and its members. It has the following functions:

  • It acts as a resource for people interested in HL research, both in England and abroad;
  • It engages new stakeholders
  • It provides useful information and weblinks;
  • It enables us to disseminate research by group members.

Our website can be viewed on http://www.healthliteracy.org.uk

Delivery on targets set in the last annual report

Our previous strategy was set until 2015 and we are now in the process of revising this. We plan to engage with the wider membership to help us develop this. Currently our strategy focuses on four areas:

  • Research and Development
  • Group membership
  • Group strategy
  • Joanne Protheroe: Chair
  • Gill Rowlands: Joint Policy Lead
  • Jonathan Berry: Joint Policy Lead
  • Emee Estacio: Seminar / meeting development
  • Cath Jackson: Treasurer
  • Emma Brooks: Website and Communications
  • Bernadette Bartlam
  • Linda Clark
  • Sue Weir

The steering group meets 3-4 times a year with face-to-face meetings and teleconferences.


In the last year the Health Literacy Research Group has continued to develop and grow; we are revising our strategy in the light of our growth so that it is ‘fit for purpose’. We will continue to develop and deliver our seminar programme, and plan to hold a conference in March 2016. 

An important focus next year will be to inform policy development in the NHS with, we expect and hope, a real impact on patient care.

Special interest group: