‘Rural clinical schools’ and GP training are needed to improve recruitment and retention of health professionals in rural and coastal communities, NHS England has been told.
These courses should offer rural GP training programmes to promote the countryside opportunities ‘as a rewarding career’, the National Centre for Rural Health and Care (NCRHC) said in its recent response to the NHS Workforce Plan.
Any coastal or rural clinical school should also offer local people links to academic campuses and offer ‘additional rural qualifications’, they said.
Particular challenges facing rural and coastal towns include a rapidly ageing population – with 27% increase in the 65 years and over age group between 2011 and 2021 – and heightened mental health issues due to isolation and loneliness.
The NCRHC said many towns are also ‘medical deserts’, with ‘inadequate access to healthcare’ caused by poor transport and facilities.
In its response to the workforce plan, the NCRHC said: ‘The geographical narcissism that has viewed rural clinical practice as inferior to its urban counterparts must be addressed through training, with development of Rural Clinical Schools which recruit from local communities, links to (or creation of rural) academic campuses, ‘in-reach’ attachments, universal opportunities for rural experience, and potential for additional rural qualifications.’
They also highlighted that the Government’s focus on digital solutions do not fully consider the digital divide within many rural communities.
Only 39% of rural premises in England have Gigabit capable fixed broadband coverage from at least one operator, compared to 78% for urban sites.
Chair of the NCRHC, Jan Sobieraj said: ‘With growing rural populations and associated ageing and morbidity, rural communities are often distant to services; their hospitals regularly struggle to recruit to characteristically small teams and experience greater costs by virtue of their size.
‘This means rural communities can receive an inferior service to urban ones. However, rural primary care is uniquely placed to support the local health and care system but needs a new approach if their full potential is to be realised. Through enhancing these and other roles, we can harness and support health and care provision in rural communities. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to squander.’