Health Education England (HEE) has published plans to support Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) in coastal and rural areas experiencing consistent workforce issues.
The pilot programme – which ultimately aims to reduce health disparities and inequalities in access in these areas – will target those ICSs struggling to attract, recruit and retain staff in the face of growing demand.
Health services in rural areas typically serve older populations than those in urban areas, which often means health need is greater while access to services is poorer, HEE noted.
The new scheme will focus on widening participation and access to medical school, in particular increasing the number of applications made by those living in rural communities.
HEE will also work directly with each ICS to tailor programmes to the needs of each population.
It comes in response to a report published by chief medical officer (CMO) Chris Whitty last summer, which questioned whether enough resources are being directed to support the health needs of those living in coastal areas.
Patrick Mitchell, director of innovation, transformation and digital at HEE, said: ‘Addressing longstanding inequalities requires a new vision for professional practice in rural and coastal areas which is locally distributed, community embedded and where education and learning leads to greater collaboration with other partners in health, care, local authorities, and communities.’
Poor health ‘overlooked’
Despite serving older, more deprived communities with a greater prevalence of disease, the report found that coastal communities have 15% fewer consultants per patient than the national average.
The report said: ‘This analysis has highlighted the need to specifically consider the challenges facing coastal communities and to ensure we are training the future workforce to better align with where their skills are needed.’
The CMO had recommended the DHSC and HEE ‘review whether current funding arrangements are a disincentive to GP, nursing and other NHS and social care workers moving to coastal areas’.
Professor Whitty also said additional work was required to:
- Actively recruit in coastal communities to existing medical schools
- Increase GP and specialty training placements in coastal areas
- Increase coastal communities’ access to specialist healthcare, including via digital methods.
He called for a national strategy ‘informed by local leaders and experts’ to help reduce preventable ill health, noting that the situation will worsen if not tackled ‘vigorously and systematically’.
It comes after a think tank criticised the ‘centralised’ structure of the NHS, arguing it is ‘misaligned’ with its broader ambition to tackle health inequality.