Many organisations have a healthy employee development programme in place. But how many of these ensure their strategy embraces the entire organisation - including those who may need to brush up on their literacy or numeracy skills? Chris Pearson explores why a whole organisational approach to literacy, language and numeracy matters

You may be surprised at how manypeople could benefit from enhancing their literacy and numeracy skills, no matter how experienced or qualified they are. Poor communication skills and difficulties with reading and numeracy are not uncommon - it is a hidden challenge faced by many people. The costs can be high too. In organisations employing more than 1,000 staff, poor literacy and numeracy skills can cost as much as£500,000 per year and lead to shortfalls in productivity.

With growing demands on healthcare services, it is vital that the health sector is able to provide safe and effective care. As new roles and services emerge, staff need to be able to take on new tasks safely and competently. For example, they may need to have improved numeracy skills to effectively carry out prescribing.

The benefits of addressing weak literacy and numeracy skills in your workforce are clear:

  • safe and effective patient care;

  • improved service delivery;

  • better retention and recruitment of staff;

  • increased motivation and staff development;

  • greater compliance with health and safety.

Enhanced literacy and numeracy skills can act as a personal 'skills escalator', encouraging people to take up further learning and development. A raised level of awareness of these skills also supports the personal development review process that underpins the NHS knowledge and skills framework.

Skills for Health has been working with many organisations to improve their literacy and numeracy strategy and extend participation and employability to enable staff to escalate their skills. Our aim is to see more staff, especially those in bands 1-4, increase their knowledge and contribute to safer, more effective services, and improve their own employability and skills levels.

Feedback from learners who have been able to improve their literacy and numeracy skills has been very positive. Not only are they pleased that they are getting extra support where it is needed, but they value the opportunity to play a fuller part in their healthcare teams.


To help organisations find out more, we have launched a new literacy and numeracy section on our website, which features free resources and tools to help your organisation develop its approach to these skills, specifically developed for the health sector. Features include the organisation healthcheck interactive assessment, a DIY literacy and numeracy framework builder, awareness rasing CD-ROMS and much more. For more details, click here

By taking a robust, whole organisation approach to these skills, healthcare employers can ensure their entire healthcare team is ready to support new services and provide better standards of care for their patients and service users.