Elderly 'timebomb' for health services

ENGLAND'S ageing rural population is set to put huge pressure on health and social care services, says a report.

The study, from the Rural Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Policy Group, highlights worrying figures about rural health and social care services.

The number of older people in rural areas will double by 2028, putting huge pressure on existing services, many of which are already experiencing funding cuts, it says.

Health and social care services in rural areas are already getting more difficult to access, which impacts on the wellbeing of countryside communities, the report warns.

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The VCS Policy Group was set up by the Yorkshire & Humber Rural Network to share knowledge and lobby national and local decision makers on pertinent rural policy issues.

The network is itself a partnership between Humber and Wolds Rural Community Council, Rural Action Yorkshire and Involve Yorkshire & Humber.

Judy Robinson, chief executive at Involve Yorkshire and Humber said: "The voluntary and community sector in rural areas has two crucial roles in health.

"First, it prevents health problems through community activity.

"Second, in more direct ways, charities provide services from counselling to older people's care which is tailored to people in rural areas and is delivered by organisations who understand the patch.

"And on top of this these services create employment opportunities.'

Investing in the voluntary and community sector would prevent long term and serious health problems arising and so will save money, said Ms Robinson.

The study says twice as many households in rural Yorkshire don't have a local GP, with 3.1% living more than 6km from a GP, compared to 1.6 per cent nationally.

In addition, 16.8% of those living in rural areas within Yorkshire and Humber report themselves as having a limiting long term illness – higher than the national average.

Some 15.2% of them (33,135) are working age adults who are permanently sick or disabled.

Both Age UK and the House of Commons rural affairs committee have reported on the problems of accessing health and social care services, especially for older people.

In addition, the loss of the Minimum Practice Guarantee to rural GP surgeries – which helps them to offset the costs of rurality – could exacerbate the problems of access.

This is likely to mean more health needs and pressure on volunteers, says the study.

More than half of charities and community organisations in Yorkshire and Humber see recent changes in health and social care as a key issue.

Tanja Weston, Rural Action Yorkshire, said those in charge of rural health policy and deliver needed to take urgent action.

"Commissioners of health and social care services must take into account the higher costs relating to access so that the needs of rural end users are met-and not rely solely on the service cost."

The full policy paper can be downloaded here.


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