RSP Member - Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Rural medicine matters and it needs a voice

Rural communities are very different from their urban counterparts. The challenges, the obstacles and the opportunities all vary. Yet too often this isn’t recognised.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust covers one of the most rural geographies in England. From Berwick on the Scottish border, to Haltwhistle out west and to the old fishing communities on the North Sea coast, we supply health and social care services to some of the most isolated and diverse rural dwellings in the country. It’s a privilege to do so – but it’s not without difficulties.
The phrase ‘a country mile’ carries real meaning for us. Even a ‘short’ journey – say 25 miles – can take double or triple what Google maps tells you it will. This has implications both for our patients and staff. Logistics become more challenging, support (if required) will take longer to arrive and in bad weather may not even be possible. All of this means we have to be different.
Innovation and integration are very real here. Buzzwords to many but a reality to us. In order to provide the best possible care, we’ve had to be creative, willing to ‘be first’ and to adopt new ways of working. Thanks to our close partnership with Northumberland County Council (NCC), health and social care are deeply interwoven; well used to working closely together. This means our patients receive seamless care and that our staff are spared duplicated journeys. Not only is this more cost effective and efficient but it delivers better results for patients; empowering them to live independently for longer.
Hospitals remain critical but this doesn’t mean they never evolve – the NHS is ever-changing, and thankfully so – but they remain an integral part of how we ‘do’ rural healthcare. For instance, our community hospitals have moved from their traditional – essentially static – roles to a dynamic position as healthcare hubs. Hubs where they act as hosts for new technology (i.e. telemedicine) and as centres of excellence for outpatient care; often with specialist clinics ‘borrowing’ space within. Bring the best care right to our community’s doorsteps.
This is a journey that is far from over. We’ve ambitious plans to take this further. To move to a position where the majority of care occurs outside of a major acute site and where ever greater use of technology means fewer and fewer journeys for patients and staff alike. It’s a very exciting prospect and one we are proud to be part of.

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