Do you know where to go for information about health or social care?

One aspect of the NHS that people value highly is the idea that health and care services will be available to them exactly when and where they need them. But in reality, it’s not always so easy to find the right support.

Even finding information about how to access services can be tricky – not least because the structure of the NHS (and social care) can seem quite complicated, and there may often be other barriers too.

Healthwatch Essex exists, at least in part, to help people access the information they need to make informed choices about the care that’s right for them.

Last autumn, we carried out some research into what problems people faced when trying to find out about health and social care. We also asked what kind of information people felt they needed about services, and how they wanted to be able to access it.

People told us they felt that health and social care professionals, who seem to be best placed to provide information, often appeared to lack the time (and sometimes the knowledge) to be able to provide the information people were seeking.

Others reported that they often had to make multiple phone calls to find the information they needed, or that they were passed to different departments and services with no one taking responsibility for answering their queries.

A lot of the time, when people did find the service that was right for them, it seemed to be by chance. One participant told us, “I’m new to the area and if it wasn’t for the fact that I bumped into someone with a guide dog that I started talking to, I wouldn’t have known about the support in the area.”

The study gave us a lot to think about. The thing that emerged loud and clear was a need for a one-stop-shop for information about local health and care services, provided by someone who was friendly and knowledgeable.

And that’s when we decided to launch our telephone information service.

People call our number for lots of different reasons. They might have recently moved to Essex and be looking for their nearest GP surgery or dentist. Or they might be looking for information about being cared for at home or residential care services. We can point people to services for mental health, family support, disability, support for carers and lots of other services.

We can provide information about what to do when things have gone wrong and how to make a complaint, too.

Paul from Chelmsford called the line because he was unhappy with a decision made by his GP and didn’t what to do: “Healthwatch Essex put me in contact with an advocacy organisation who visited me at home and helped me make a complaint to NHS England.”

In addition to finding information, people can also call to tell us about an experience they’ve had or give us feedback, good or bad, about a service they’ve used. We can then use these stories to build a picture of health and care in the county, and share it with the providers of those services.

If you would like information about health and care services near to you, the number is 0300 500 1895. Calls are confidential and charged at the rate of local call.