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Why can it be difficult to find out information about the range of health and social care services available? What measures can be taken to reduce the barriers to accessing information?

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DATE:  13/05/08

Why can it be difficult to find out information about the range of health and social care services available?  What measures can be taken to reduce the barriers to accessing information?

Finding out information about the range of health and social care services available in the community can be difficult. The reason for this is when information about care services is provided; it often fails to reach the proposed crowd of people.  And even if the people are aware of these services, it may not be paid interest to because the problem is - the provided information is difficult to understand. The difficulty of getting the information in the first place; the ineffectual nature of written materials; badly designed information; and the attitudes of the service providers to diversity are some of the reasons why information about health and social care services could be difficult to find. In this essay, I am going to discuss the reasons why it is difficult to find out information about the range of health and social care services available and I am going to give illustrations based on the examples from the course materials and also discuss the measures that can be taken to reduce the barriers to accessing this information.

To find out information about health and social care services is difficult and considered not only for the service users but also to care providers (Unit 22 p.13).  Service users need to know information on what services are available to them; on the other hand, the service providers need information in order to function in their various professional capacities. The people want to know information concerning services for different reasons but it can be difficult finding out about what services might be suitable, whether or not is entitled to use such a service and where else to go if the particular service is not accessible.  Just like the case of Mandy and her son Sean (Unit 13 pp. 154-156) in one of the examples in Unit 13.  Mandy is a single parent looking after a sick child with severe asthma.  Mandy is new to the local area and doesn’t know anyone.  She needs help for their needs but doesn’t know where to go. Mandy has stumble on difficult time to find out what services she needed to know.  On the other hand, people she approached for help is not also much informed on what other services that the local community could offered to Sean and Mandy.  If only Mandy was able to get hold of information on services listed in Offprint 27 (Offprint 27, pp.119-110), their needs would be appropriately addressed to the corresponding agencies or social services.

In retrospect to the example illustrated by the Jim and Marianne’s case in Unit 10, wherein Jim and Marian are being labelled as drug addicts, they are disadvantaged of their rights on accessing information for the care they needed in the community. As we could consider back in Unit 10, the GP’s are the “gatekeeper” to the NHS (Unit 10 p. 21). It is the GP who determines or contend with access whether a patient should need a specialist for treatment or not. Apart from being identified as drug addicts, Jim and Marianne have also concerns with regards to their other health problems.  For this reason, patients like Jim and Marianne could not go to NHS hospital to see a specialist if they could not acquire referral signed by the GP and could not get any medical support.  And in order for Jim and Marianne to use or access any service, they need to know through the information provided by their GP what services they are eligible to use or access.

Information materials such as leaflets and posters alone are relatively ineffectual in encouraging people to do things (Unit 22, pp. 17-20). In the course example in Unit 22, Dr. Li who is the GP in Grove Health centre (Unit 22 pp. 17-18) has the intention of extending help by promoting a service like the reducing stress-induced health conditions to the people in their local community. She used the leaflet designed to promote the service and distributed to different places of the local community for people to access the information.  But to her surprised, only a small number of people responded to her promotion of services she is offering to the people.  The ineffectual nature of written materials such as leaflets and posters is a cause why information is difficult to access.

Badly designed information (Unit 22 pp. 21-23) is also one reason why people do not get interest in reading the leaflets even if these were being distributed to places where people could easily find them.  In providing good information, information telling people directly about services needs to be well designed and to answer the questions they want answered in a language and format they can use (Unit 22, p. 21). To give example on information with good design is the picture-supported information (Unit 22, p.22).  This kind of information will enable most especially the people with learning difficulties and even the ordinary people to easily understand the intended meaning or interpretation the care provider would like to offer them. Using this kind of good design of informing people would cater to a wider audience.  Another example of good design is making information available in minority languages (Unit 22, p. 22).  This would enable the people in the local minority group like the Bangladeshi community, Chinese community and other minority groups to also have the opportunity to access any services available for them.  To illustrate this, I will use the case study of Mr. Li in one of the examples in Block 6 (Unit 23 p. 54).  Mr. Li has been assessed under the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 and found to be in need of various care services. He has been offered a respite care at the Eventide residential home but is thinking of turning down the offer because he is worried that no one would be talking Cantonese in the area and his dietary needs could be hardly met.  But since Mr. Li has been updated that a series of people from diverse ethnic background has been used the service, and that his dietary needs could be met, this has reassured Mr. Li of his confidence in accepting the offer.

Providing information with good designs would also consider the rights of equal access to people with disability.  Information provided in large print, on Braille and on tape would be very helpful to disabled people (Unit 22. p.23).  For people with learning disabilities, the NHS has produced a booklet like the ‘Once A Day’ that aimed to promote a good practice.  Well-designed information allows service users to find things for themselves rather than having to rely on someone else. Information needs to be designed to be accessible to people with a range of communication needs, and failure to consider design can present a serious obstacle to access.

The attitudes of service providers to diversity could be another factor to why information is difficult to access (Unit 22, p. 24). To illustrate this, keep in mind the argument about ‘labelling’ of young carers in Block 1 as ‘informal carers’ (Unit 1, pp. 20-22). As young carers were unwilling to accept the label informal carer, any services offered to enable informal carers to carry on in their role would not reach the intended audience.  According to Jones et al. (2002), ‘Agencies did not routinely gather information on young people with caring responsibilities and professionals’ awareness of the issue was very low’ (cited in Unit 22, p. 26). Having the attitude that there is no need to gather information about young carers, service providers failed to recognise diversity by not including potential users like the young carers or those labelled ‘informal carers’.

There are measures to be taken in order to reduce the barriers to accessing information.  One of this is for service users to have a voice in planning (Unit 22, pp. 30-32). Using the Planning Process (Unit 22, p.30), planning is not just something that happens then stops.  As information becomes available through the experience of delivering services, planning should be something that goes on all the time. In order for the public to get involved, the use of the social survey techniques like gathering information through questionnaires could be used or administered.  Other agencies also used the focus groups, which are small groups of people preferred to stand for the different kinds of person in the area (Unit 22, p.31). Even though the decisions of the focus group are not the last word on what is actually planned, their views will be fed in to the planning process.  Information about how to supply services comes from service providers.  To complete the planning process, the views of the service users are essential.

Another measure that could be taken is the self-advocacy. Self-advocacy means speaking for yourself, rather than having someone speak on your behalf. It usually implies doing so with the support of self-advocacy group (Unit 22, p. 33-37). Compared to advocacy, which was being discussed in Unit 10 and being define by Ken Simons as, “it is an unconditional ally for an individual who is vulnerable; someone to be on the side of their partner” (Simons, 1993 in Unit 10, p.49), self-advocacy is somehow more empowering because it helps people achieve more confidence and self esteem, and the people build up valuable skills like social relationship skills; communication skills; and organisational skills (Unit 22, p.34-35).  In the case study about Jim and Marianne in Unit 10, they need an advocate to battle or persevere for their right to access health and social care but with the self-advocacy group, they could advocate for themselves, speak for themselves in a way that allow them to put forward their own views of which could be more advantaged for them.  Self-advocacy acknowledges the experience that service users have, giving them a dynamic part to verbalize and allowing them to express for themselves on matters of concern to them.

It is clear from the above discussion that when information is provided about care services, it often fails to get to the intended audience, or if it does, it may not be paid attention to, or is hard to understand. In order to provide a good information, it needs to be accessible to the people it is intended to contact; the information should be well designed; written materials such as leaflets and flyers needs to be effective that people would get interests to read; and the providers of information should recognise and respond to the diversity of their potential audience.  In order to reduce the barriers to accessing this information, involvement and have a voice in the planning of the service users and joining a self-advocacy group are best measures to be considered.


Open University (2005), K100 Understanding Health and Social Care, Unit 1 “Caring: A Family Affair”, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Open University (2005), K100 Understanding Health and Social Care, Unit 10 “Accessing Community Services”, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Open University (2005), K100 Understanding Health and Social Care, Unit 13 “Finding Out About Services in the Community”, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Open University (2005), K100 Understanding Health and Social Care, Unit 22 “Sharing Knowledge”, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Open University (2005), K100 Understanding Health and Social Care, Unit 23 “Confidentiality: Managing Personal Information”, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Services Which Might be Relevant to the Needs of Mandy and Sean Brown, K100 Understanding Health and Social Care, Offprints, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

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