Week 1: the latest from the NHS additional language support discovery


Welcome to the first full week of our additional language support discovery by the NHS digital service manual team.

We will be sending out weekly updates for the duration of this project. These will keep you updated with the work we are doing each week.

What is this about?

Our additional language support discovery is a project looking at how we can provide additional language support to the millions of people in the UK who struggle to read written English.

A discovery looks at understanding the problems people face. This allows us to understand what NHS Digital can potentially do to help alleviate these problems.

We are looking at how we can support the following users:

  • People who do not have English as a main language
  • People with a disability that may affect how they read


The additional language support offered by NHS.UK right now is limited. We have guidance in place on how to write health information in a way that is easy to understand but the current format of our information may not be accessible to people with additional language needs.

Often additional language support is provided at a local, rather than national, level. So by providing information in more accessible ways, the NHS could reduce the burden on the frontline to source this information, especially in formats required by NHS England’s Accessible Information Standard.

What are we doing?

We will be looking at how various user groups access health information and what problems they face.

We know this is a big and complex topic so for now we want to focus on understanding what is happening now before we jump to solutions. We are aware this support can take many different forms and we are keen to learn more about what will work best for different users.


We currently think this project will run until October, when we will produce recommendations for what future work should take place. We are hoping this work will trigger future projects from this starting point that will involve more research and creating solutions.

The team

There will be 3 of us working on this project. We’re all based in the NHS digital service manual team.

Amy James — User Researcher:

“I’m keen to understand the problems faced by people we struggle to serve. I’m excited that this work could hopefully help people to navigate the health system, but also that we can change the system to better help them.”

Catherine Reader — Product Manager Graduate:

“I am so excited to see where this discovery takes us. I find inclusion and accessibility fascinating. As someone who has a disability that affects how I read, I am really glad this project is taking place”

Pete Kowalczyk — Content Designer

“I’m really excited about this deep dive into our users’ experience, collaborating with communities to understand their needs and their context. Language ability shouldn’t get in the way of people’s health. And ultimately, I hope this project can lead to more people getting what they need, in a format that works for them.”

What we have been doing this week

This week we have formally kicked off the discovery. In previous weeks we have started conversations and this means we now have lots of avenues to explore.

A key part of this work will be speaking to the users themselves. We believe that in order to talk to different communities, community group leaders can guide us in who to talk to and how. In some of the conversations we have had this week we have been asking:

  • What format would work best, focus groups or one to one interviews?
  • Who do you think we should speak to?
  • Who is best placed to ask the research questions?

We’ve already run one focus group with people with a learning disability.

We spoke to a membership organisation about the struggles their member healthcare trusts face in producing translated materials.

We know the answers may vary a lot for different communities and we look forward to exploring what works best for each.

We also have started looking at how we can measure success in our work. We spoke to a colleague about how we often use forms in written English to gather information on who is coming to NHS.UK. This can exclude people.

Key insights this week

  • A community group leader told us their local trust was giving them translated health information to circulate. Most of the community struggled to read this as it was just a page of text.
  • The people with a learning disability we spoke to tended to leave a web page if it had too much information and jargon on it.
  • There is a need for additional language support not just for patients but for carers and parents too.

What we are doing next week

We are excited to speak to some people who already produce content in alternative formats including translations of text to British Sign Language and to more readable formats like Easy Read. We’re keen to understand more about why and how these formats have been created.

We’re also meeting again with some of the community leaders we have spoken to, to speak to them and their colleagues. We want to know more about their role providing health information to the communities they serve, and the main issues their communities face.

Contact us

If you have any questions about our work or want to get more involved please email us at catherine.reader1@nhs.net or amy.james2@nhs.net.

NHS Digital Product Manager Graduate