While the policy impacts of austerity, imposed following the global financial crisis, are ubiquitous, it is increasingly being recognised that rural services are under particular, significant and increasing pressures in these difficult times. Research by the Rural Services Network has demonstrated that communities in rural areas pay more for and get less in terms of local public services than their urban counterparts.
Funding formulae rarely fully reflect the extra costs of providing services to sparse rural communities. The need to provide high quality clinical specialities, viable district general hospitals and good quality community based services present particular challenges for management teams working in predominantly rural areas.
The Health and Social Care Act further compounds these considerations as commissioning decisions are re-located to new organisations and the Public Health function moves in to new joint structures with local government.
Innovation and sharing best practice will offer opportunities for most providers in delivering strong services in future. Services in rural areas are typically more expensive to provide and consequently are often spread more thinly than elsewhere. The trend, looking forward, suggests this scenario will get worse, at least in the short term. Lateral thinking and a willingness to benefit from the experience of other providers will be important in successfully meeting these major future challenges.
In recognising these particular difficulties Nottinghamshire NHS Trust has been working with the Rural Services Partnership and the Institute of Rural Health to develop a proposal for a strategic Rural Health Network. The group would bring together, at a national level, health organisations and other partners to facilitate ideas, development and the sharing of best practice in the provision and development of health services to rural populations.
Devolved responsibilities across the UK also provides an opportunity to also learn from experiences in different health care systems and membership of the Rural Health Network will be open to interested organisations from across the UK.
An inaugural conference to launch this Network is being planned for 26 November 2012 at the City Ground, Nottingham. The conference will be chaired by Baroness Byford of the All Parliamentary Policy Group on Rural Services. Leading clinicians and academics working in the field of rural health provision are supporting and presenting at the conference. The programme also provides opportunities to attend several professional workshops looking at specific issues in more depth.
Working together with our partners, the Rural Services Partnership and the Institute of Rural Health, we believe that the following additional benefits would accrue from organisations joining and participating in this new group:-
* Increased service group work at network meetings and further facilitated through e-mail conferencing
* Sharing of best practice and learning across the sector through running a national rural health commissioners group together with relevant providers, linking to other rural service providers with common interests (e.g. local government and the third sector, including internet linking).
* An interactive web site supporting the new network with rural health and wellbeing specific content
* Rural Proofing – opportunity for participative engagement and discussion
* Annual events to showcase best practice
* Pathways to national decision makers to raise the profile of members' key concerns about rural health delivery.
* Through the Network, identify common areas for further research (although this may require additional funding to commission and publish).
This conference will be breaking new ground and has already stimulated considerable interest across the sector. Leading academics will be facilitating a variety of workshops including a new Rural Proofing toolkit commissioned by DEFRA from the IRH and another on Rural Resourcing.