RSN Chief Exec: “Lack of government funding has created a rural ticking timebomb.”

The Rural Services Network Chief Executive, Kerry Booth, backs Chief Medical Officer’s new report which urges government to address failings for older people in rural communities but says it can’t but done without the proper funding.

Today (Friday 10 November) the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty has published his annual report which, this year, focuses on health in an ageing society.  In it, Professor Whitty says: “For policymakers, the biggest concern I have is that government and professional bodies have not recognised the degree to which the population living in older age is concentrating geographically in the United Kingdom in general, and England specifically. The great majority of people move out of cities and large towns before older age, concentrating geographically in coastal, semi-rural or peripheral areas, often with relatively sparse services and transport links.”

Commenting on the report, RSN Chief Executive, Kerry Booth, said: “We are two years on from Professor Whitty last report which focused on health in coastal communities and they crisis the face.  But what has the government done to address the recommendations? 

“RSN welcomes his latest report which encompasses rural areas and further evidences everything we have been saying about the dire situation in our rural communities.  His findings show that rural areas are ageing at a faster rate than urban areas.  From this, he sets out the challenges these changes will bring for social care, the greater need for reliable transport links and the right affordable housing. 

“The government hasn’t addressed the way our rural communities have changed and it’s not preparing for what is to come.  This is a ticking timebomb and the government must act: now.”

The report set challenges including the difficulty in recruiting staff in the social work and domiciliary care sector which it attributes to high property prices in rural areas, poor public transport, high fuel costs and higher demands due to this aging population.  It warns that “if we do not tackle the health problems of these communities vigorously and systematically there will be a long tail of preventable ill health in peripheral areas which will get worse as current populations age.”

Whilst media reaction to the report has focused on Professor Whitty’s comment to ‘adopt old fashioned habits’ and ‘priorities quality of life over prolonging it for the elderly’, Kerry Booth says the real issue comes to poor long-term planning and crucially the appropriate funding: “These population projections aren’t new.  We’ve known we would be in this situation for a long time and yet, those in power have done nothing to address it.  Professor Whitty is correct in saying that access to leisure services, cultural events and suitable physical activity is important in improving health, how are local authorities supposed to pay for this?  Until we get the funding formula correct, rural areas will continue to miss out and be unable to provide the services that the government’s own Chief Medical Officer says are crucial to people’s health and well-being.”


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