Published: 11/11/2004, Volume II4, No. 5931 Page 33

One in five adults have poor numeracy and literacy skills, according to some estimates.

This means in any NHS organisation there may be dozens of staff who are struggling.

East Sussex Hospitals trust, which has a workforce of 5,190, estimated that up to 1,038 staff might benefit from a programme that could improve literacy and numeracy as part of a lifelong learning scheme.

The Brain Food project, which began in March 2003, aims to meet the development needs of staff, including literacy and numeracy skills.So far more than 230 employees, mostly support staff including housekeeping and admin workers and healthcare assistants, have taken part.

In partnership with Bexhill College,10 life skills subjects were initially delivered in three-hour taster courses.

The most popular subjects were then offered in 12 one-hour sessions.Subjects included managing money, beginners IT and assertiveness.All the courses cover literacy and numeracy.

Line managers are also trained to identify those who might benefit from the scheme at appraisals and contribute to staff personal development plans.

Wendy White, assistant director learning and development, says staff who have taken part feel more confident dealing with colleagues and patients and better equipped to handle enquiries.

'I now understand decimals, fractions and percentages, and feel confident when using them, ' says one participant.