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Health literacy and antenatal care in NHS Lothian

The NHS Lothian Health and Literacy Project is committed to raising awareness of health literacy and the role it plays in health inequalities. Health literacy is the ability to access, understand and act on health information. It is estimated that patients only remember and correctly understand about 25% of the information that a health professional discusses with them. 

Health Literacy in Scotland

The extent of low health literacy in Scotland is much wider than commonly thought as it affects more people than just those who have basic literacy and numeracy difficulties. Research evidence shows that patients with low health literacy have poorer health status and poorer self-reported health; have decreased ability to communicate with healthcare professionals ;are less able to make health decisions; make less use of preventive services; have poorer health outcomes (Health Literacy - A Scoping Study: Final Report, Scottish Government 2009). 

NHS Lothian Health and Literacy Project:

In North Edinburgh the Health and Literacy Project is part of the Bumpstart antenatal support team, creating additional opportunities for parents to access and discuss information about pregnancy, birth and caring for a new baby.

They have 2 drop-in Pregnancy Cafes where parents and their partners help to create the programme, ensuring that topics discussed are relevant to them. They also run a Mum’s Club at a busy ante-natal clinic, offering information, refreshments and a relaxing environment for parents waiting for appointments.  The project works alongside midwives in delivering parent education, enabling small group work or additional support as required. This provides an important link for parents attending the pregnancy cafes and mum’s club to parent education.

The project has developed an easily accessible Pregnancy Planner for parents to help them to follow the progress of their pregnancies and to encourage them to ask questions when they meet their midwives.

All of these activities are designed to increase parents’ engagement with their pregnancies and their role in the healthy development of their babies. The Mum’s Club in particular has successfully engaged parents in a disadvantaged area in activities and learning which help parents think not only about pregnancy and birth but also about their baby’s needs in its first months of life, as well as connecting women to community resources for parents and babies to learn together.

Feedback of the project:

Local midwives are very supportive of Bumpstart. They encourage parents to attend the Cafes and groups and also refer people for 1:1 literacy support. Midwife teams have training sessions on health literacy and teach-back methods and have increased awareness of the importance of effective and appropriate communication to achieve positive outcomes. The Bumpstart project is funded by the Health Improvement Fund. Contact the Health and Literacy Project, e-mail:

phone 0131 537 4230