Funded by the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme, the three-year IROHLA project sought-out solutions to address the low levels of health literacy observed in most European member states. Health literacy is the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health-related information and services to make appropriate health decisions. People with low levels of health literacy have poorer health outcomes, and improving health literacy requires improvements in people’s competencies, knowledge, skills and attitudes towards health. Health literacy also applies to healthcare systems and their responsiveness to people with low health literacy – ensuring that medicines, care and services are easy to understand and navigatable. The project therefore took a comprehensive approach, explaining how to increase health literacy in health systems, and for patients and citizens who can have markedly different needs.
Throughout the panel sessions moderated by EuroHealthNet, links were made between low levels of adult education and health literacy and people living in disadvantaged situations. Graham Kramer, (National Clinical Lead for Self Management and Health Literacy, Scottish Government) argued that “addressing health literacy is an issue of human rights and health inequalities. In Scotland it is particularly important to phrase health literacy in these terms – it helps get it onto the political agenda”. This implies the need for a health-in-all-policies approach. Indeed, as noted by Gina Ebner (Secretary General, European Association of Education for Adults), “roughly 20 per cent of the European population cannot understand medicine instructions, meaning that adult education and health providers need to work together because both are trying to achieve something similar”.