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MPs call for rural funding rethink after three-year inquiry

DDA highlights the role of dispensing GPs in rural areas

February 2nd 2022

Tagged: Rurality England

By Ailsa Colquhoun

Current funding arrangements need to be urgently addressed to account for the true cost of rural health services, a three-year investigation into rural health and care has found.

Chaired by Newton Abbott MP Anne Marie Morris, a new report calls for Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) to build understanding of the distinctive health and care needs of rural areas and deliver services that are suited to the specific needs of rural places. Supporting this will be a structural and regulatory framework that fosters adaption and innovation, the report recommends.

The APPG report into rural health & social care finds that pandemic-linked growth in rural populations should highlight the need for Government to take notice of the impact on health services of the growing rural population. Currently around 17 per cent of England’s population (2020) – or 9.7 million people – lived in rural areas.

Among its highlights is the finding that there are flaws in the current system of identifying rural health inequalities because of inappropriate data collection methods. This means that the extra costs of providing health and care in rural areas are not fully reflected in the current funding formula, resulting in rural residents receiving a lower level of care compared to their urban counterparts.

Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust Nigel Edwards commented: “Historically, small and remote hospitals have faced unavoidable higher costs, not received their fair share of funding, struggled to attract and retain staff and have compared worse than their urban counterparts against key NHS performance measures. Coronavirus has exacerbated these long-standing challenges and left rural services with a steeper hill to climb in order to claw back waiting lists.”

Alongside funding, the investigation also notes the lack of professionally qualified staff, public transport, poor broadband and network access as significant constraints to the delivery of accessible health and social care in rural areas. Rural residents also face higher costs and greater difficulty and distance accessing specialist and emergency services.

During the inquiry, DDA chairman Dr Richard West highlighted the role of dispensing doctors in areas where pharmacies do not operate. He suggested that changes to the pharmacy contract could drive changes in the role of GP practice pharmacists, supported by a local recruitment strategy. He also called on commissioners not to overlook the benefits of local service innovation in the drive to join up services.

Commenting, Anne Marie Morris MP, Chair of APPG on Rural Health & Social Care said: “The realities of rural health provision have become very apparent. “Without clear changes in policy direction and decision-making, the situation will move from urgent to critical. Our rural communities deserve better health and care. This report shows how we can make this happen.”

Professor Richard Parish CBE, executive chair of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care and report author, added: “The current ‘one size fits all’ model is ineffective and inefficient. If we are truly serious about ‘levelling up’, we must ensure that rural residents have the same access to timely, quality services as their urban counterparts.”