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A new toolkit aims to help improve understanding of the issues surrouning the commissioning and delivery of rural health services.
The Rural Proofing for Health Toolkit was launched by the Institute of Rural Health on Friday (30 November).
Its goal is to act as a reference for health service commissioners, supporting them to develop and maintain a better understanding of the issues surrounding health services in rural areas.
The Rural Proofing for Health Toolkit will draw attention to what needs to be taken into account when commissioning and delivering rural health services.
It also encourages commissioners to think about the impact of rurality and to assess the potential gains and pitfalls when commissioning healthcare provision.
Defra and the Department of Health worked with the Local Government Association, the NHS Confederation and the Rural Primary Care Trust Network to develop the toolkit.
The Institute of Rural Health was then commissioned to deliver the resource and their engagement with rural health practitioners is reflected throughout.
Access to healthcare and social care services can be more challenging in rural areas, particularly for people without adequate access to transport, says the toolkit website.
Older residents living in sparse rural areas may have limited access to public and private transport and as such, this may impact upon the healthcare pathway.
Lack of access to adequate transport may restrict a patient's choice of appointment times, or increase the risk of missing an outpatients appointment.
Only 55% of rural households compared to 97% of urban households are within 8km of a hospital, according to the toolkit website.
These longer distances mean rural residents can experience distance decay "where there is a decreasing rate of service use with increasing distance from the source of health care".
Studies have shown that the closer the service the more likely it will be used.
Rural and remote rural populations are therefore more likely to be affected by distance decay.
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