Background The notion 'hard to reach' is a contested and ambiguous term that is commonly used within the spheres of social care and health, especially in discourse around health and social inequalities. There is a need to address health inequalities and to engage in services the marginalized and socially excluded sectors of society. Methods This paper describes a pilot study involving interviews with representatives from eight Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations . The purpose of the study was to explore the notion of 'hard to reach' and perceptions of the barriers and facilitators to accessing services for 'hard to reach' groups from a voluntary and community sector perspective. Results The 'hard to reach' may include drug users, people living with HIV, people from sexual minority communities, asylum seekers, refugees, people from black and ethnic minority communities, and homeless people although defining the notion of the 'hard to reach' is not straight forward. It may be that certain groups resist engaging in treatment services and are deemed hard to reach by a particular service or from a societal stance. There are a number of potential barriers for people who may try and access services, including people having bad experiences in the past; location and opening times of services and how services are funded and managed. A number of areas of commonality are found in terms of how access to services for 'hard to reach' individuals and groups could be improved including: respectful treatment of service users, establishing trust with service users, offering service flexibility, partnership working with other organisations and harnessing service user involvement. Conclusions: If health services are to engage with groups that are deemed 'hard to reach' and marginalised from mainstream health services, the experiences and practices for engagement from within the VCS may serve as useful lessons for service improvement for statutory health services
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