Call to ensure rural challenges are addressed by NHS Workforce Plan

The National Centre for Rural Health and Care has today (Tuesday 19 September) published its response to the government’s NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.  It welcomes the opportunities set out in the Plan but feels that there is a risk that rural areas could miss out. The Centre stresses the distinct challenges facing rural and coastal communities when it comes to health and calls on responsible organisations to ensure there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to their plans.

The NCRHC proposals include the development of Rural Clinical Schools which should recruit from local communities; links to or the creation of rural academic campuses; ‘in-reach’ attachments; universal opportunities for rural experience; and potential for additional rural qualifications.

The NCRHC also says special rural GP training programmes would promote the opportunities and benefits of a career in rural areas but appropriate training facilities and training, support and recompense for tutors will be needed. Shared-learning, flexible working practices and peer support, including use of comprehensive clinical networks, will also be essential in retaining health and care professionals.

The response highlights the government’s focus on digital solutions and acknowledges the important role technology must play in this field. However, it highlights the connectivity issue in many rural communities and the growing digital divide in these areas.  The Centre says the organisations responsible for implementing the NHS Workforce Plan have a great opportunity to tackle the longstanding rural workforce issues by adopting these and other initiatives.

Chair of the NCRHC, Jan Sobieraj says:

“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.”


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