Casebook October 2023

Casebook October 2023

Posted: October 19th 2023


This month we focus on the party-political season from a rural health perspective, announce our new chair and provide news on new health research, pod casts and our Health Seminar focusing on workforce issues on 29 November. Read on to find out how to book your place.

Politics, Party divides and the NHS

As the political party season comes to a close, the outgoing Chair of the National Centre for Rural Health & Care, Jan Sobieraj has been reflecting on the Leaders’ speeches to their parties.

As expected, the NHS featured heavily in all three speeches from the party leaders.  The Prime Minister used the phrase “NHS” 21 times in his 7,500-word speech to the Conservative Party Conference.  This was matched by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey to his party conference, whilst Keir Starmer used it 15 times.  What was perhaps more interesting was the context in which it was used.

Prior to his party conference, Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey promised that under his party, rural areas would see better access to their GPs.  The party had commissioned research which revealed that the four-week waiting time to see a GP is three times higher in some rural areas than urban ones (read the RSN article on the announcement here).  However, there was a notable absence of this research in his conference speech.

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer used phrases like “get the NHS off its knees” and “get the NHS back on its feet”. But he also talked about investing “money in boosting capacity. We will get the NHS working round the clock.  And we will pay staff properly to do it.”

The issue of staffing also featured in Rishi Sunak’s conference speech, but he retained his firm stance.  He said “We have negotiated and reached pay deals with over a million NHS workers, including nurses and hospital porters. We have met the recommendations of the independent pay review bodies for junior doctors and consultants in full. We have cut their taxes on their pensions as they requested. But they continue to demand, massive unaffordable pay rises. And that they have chosen to walk out this week says it all. This strike is all about politics, not patients.

These strikes are not in the spirit of the NHS.”

He went on to say that “For decades, we have not trained enough doctors and nurses. The result: the NHS either hiring staff from abroad or paying temporary agency workers huge fees. And we are ending that with the first ever long-term workforce plan for our health service.”

The National Centre for Rural Health & Care has already made its position on the Long-term Workforce Plan clear (see the full response here) and how we would like to see the plan go further for rural areas.

However, I think most concerning was that, throughout the three speeches, not one of the party leaders used the word ‘rural’.  I agree with my colleague, RSN Chief Executive Kerry Booth’s remark that: “With 179 MPs in the three audiences who represent rural constituencies, that is appalling.”  I hope as we move towards a General Election in the next 18-months, we start to see all politicians use this word more often and, more importantly, explain what it will mean for health and care in our rural communities.  Goodness knows, it is time for some real details.

New National Centre for Rural Health and Care Chair

Nigel Edwards will officially be starting as Chair of the National Centre in December.  He is currently the CEO of the Nuffield Trust, the independent health policy and research organisation which aims to improve health care in the UK by providing a strong evidence base.

Upcoming Rural Health & Care Seminar 29 November 2023

Work is also underway for the Rural Health & Care Seminar on Wednesday 29 November 2023.  The online event aims to discuss the topic of Rural Health and Care in England focusing on “Tackling the rural health and care workforce problem”. It will also consider in depth the points made in the National Centre for Rural Health and Care's paper in response to the NHS Workforce Plan.

Speakers include:

  • Nigel Edwards, Chair of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care
  • Professor Jim Rourke, Professor Emeritus & former Dean of Medicine, Memorial  University of Newfoundland, Canada
  • Adrian Clements, Executive Medical Director, North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation
  • Lisa Hughes, Associate Head of Workforce Transformation, Workforce Training and Education, NHS England
  • Claire Flavell, Strategic Lead, Lincolnshire Talent Academy

If you would like to attend, please register here.

Public Health Workforce Week: “We are burnt out but still delivering”

Chair of the of National Centre for Rural Health & Care, Jan Sobieraj comments on new findings released as part of Public Health Workforce Week which reveal that stress, a lack of work-life balance and burn out are amongst the top issues facing public health professionals.  The findings from the Royal Society for Public Health showed that working long hours and a lack of funding were also key factors effecting many health workers. 

Read the article in full here.

Deadline approaching for bids for funding aimed at improving health and social care services in rural areas

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health and Social Care Delivery Research (HSDR) Programme has launched a commissioned research call (23/91 Improving the Organisation and Quality of Health and Social Care Services in Rural and Coastal Areas of the UK) which offers an opportunity for potential applicants to apply for research funding.  The call deadline has been extended and will now remain open until Wednesday 22 November 2023. 

Find out more here.

BBC reports mental health services for rural communities in Gloucestershire is ‘a ‘postcode lottery’

An investigation by the BBC in Gloucestershire has revealed that mental health patients in rural areas of the county are experiencing longer waiting times that people living in places like Gloucester or Cheltenham.

The issue had already been highlighted by Barbara Piranty, Chief of the Gloucestershire Rural Community Council when she gave evidence to a parliamentary select committee.  At the time she told them that the: " problem is with rural areas is that you're not going to get that critical mass in an urban centre.  You need to bring the services to the people, but that costs money."

Read the full article from the BBC here.

World Mental Health Day: Calls for more to be done for rural communities.

Farming groups were among the many organisations calling on the government to do more to support the mental health of rural communities.

This year the campaign focused on the statement that ‘mental health is a universal human right’.  But farming groups argued that the challenges facing rural areas are often overlooked and access to services is sporadic.  Reporting on World Mental Health Day, Farming UK quoted figures from the Office for National Statistics which reveal that “more than one agricultural worker a week in the UK takes their own life.”  Read the article in full here.

Meanwhile, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) issued a start warning that the government must act now to avoid cost-of-living suicide rise in rural communities.  The call came following a Roundtable event looking at the impact the cost-of-living crisis in rural areas is having on peoples’ mental health.  Find out more about the event and the findings here.

Transport, health provision, loneliness and lack of affordable housing top list of concerns identified by rural charities

New research by Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) paints a picture of how organisations supporting rural communities have adapted post pandemic, and in response to the cost-of-living crisis.

Respondents to the survey also reported significant increases in demand for their services across the board, most notably with respect to initiatives that seek to improve health and wellbeing and support with fuel poverty. In the past year alone, they responded to over 28,000 rural community groups – not far off the levels of demand seen at the height of the pandemic

Read the article in full here.

New podcast aimed at Health Tech Innovators

"MedTech For Beginners" is a new free weekly podcast by Pym's Consultancy Limited designed to “demystify the world of medical technologies, this podcast is your passport to staying updated on the latest trends, breakthroughs, and insights.”

Pym’s introduction to the podcast says “the transformation of the healthcare sector through technology is nothing short of revolutionary. Whether you're an aspiring entrepreneur, a health professional, or simply someone curious about the evolving landscape of medical technologies, understanding the intricacies of MedTech is crucial.”

Areas covered include:

  1. Diverse Expert Perspectives: Every week, "MedTech For Beginners" features in-depth interviews with a myriad of experts – from entrepreneurs who've transformed their visions into successful startups, to stakeholders navigating the complex terrains of UK medical technologies. It's a rich tapestry of insights, experiences, and best practices – all in one place.
  2. Tailored For All: Regardless of your expertise level in the MedTech realm, this podcast caters to everyone. Its beginner-friendly approach ensures that even those new to the field can grasp complex concepts, while seasoned professionals can find value in the nuanced discussions and expert viewpoints.
  3. UK-Centric Content: While the world of medical technology is vast and global, there's something special about understanding the dynamics within the UK. This podcast offers a deep dive into UK's unique MedTech ecosystem, providing listeners with local insights that are often overlooked in broader discussions.
  4. Consistent Updates: The healthcare tech world evolves at breakneck speed. "MedTech For Beginners" ensures you're never out of the loop, with fresh content being rolled out every week. It's your regular dose of inspiration, knowledge, and innovation.

The producers also say it is perfect for rural audiences: “MedTech is not just for bustling urban hubs. Innovations in health and care technology have transformative potential for rural communities. They can bridge geographical distances, provide access to specialised care, and even combat local healthcare challenges. By tuning into this podcast, stakeholders in rural areas can identify opportunities, adapt best practices, and potentially pave the way for tech-driven healthcare solutions tailored for their unique needs.”

Find out more by downloading the latest episode on any UK podcast platforms.

New report from North Yorkshire health charity calls on government to address rural health inequalities

Healthwatch North Yorkshire is calling for “increased attention to address the rural health inequalities gripping the county” after carrying out its latest research.  The investigation included speaking to the public, support organisations and healthcare professionals about living rurally and the challenges of accessing NHS services.

The report, produced in collaboration with the Institute for Social Justice at York St. John University, explores the relationship between in-land rurality and people’s experiences of accessing and using local healthcare services, including GPs, dentists, pharmacies, or hospital care.

The research found that many people are struggling to access health care “due to the increasing distance to services, inadequate public and community transportation (especially for older and more vulnerable people), and the inaccessibility of health care professionals.”  It also reveals that health care in rural areas “costs more money which has often meant that health service provision and development has been held back by short-term funding.”  Furthermore, “despite a strong sense of community spirit there are feelings of isolation that permeate in rural communities.”

NHS users told researchers:

“I’m recovering from cancer. I don’t drive. The bus is once every three hours through the village. To get to a main road there are no pavements or lighting. It’s too great a risk to negotiate traffic.”

“People living rurally put up with more pain. And if it wasn’t for getting help from someone, I would give up.”

Other challenges detailed in the report include the “sparse geography” of North Yorkshire and the “higher than average older population”.

Read the full report and the recommendations from Health Watch North Yorkshire here.

Request for assistance in gathering the experience of NHS patients

The Patients Association is working with NHS England and the Royal College of Physicians on the development of a new outpatient strategy, which will be launched early next year.

You can learn more about the project in this blog written by their Head of Patient Partnership, Sarah Tilsed.

The Patients Association has launched a survey to hear from patients and carers about their recent experiences of NHS outpatient services. To ensure a diverse range of patients is reached they would be very grateful if you could share:

via your patient-facing contacts and social media channels.

There is also the option for patients and carers to phone the Patients Association helpline on 0800 345 7115 for assistance in completing the survey if required.

The poster can be printed and displayed where patients and carers will see it.

Could you help find accommodation for refugee doctors?

The Lincolnshire Refugee Doctor Project (LRDP) is a Community Interest Company (CIC) whose aim is to support local health communities across Lincolnshire, by working with medically qualified overseas doctors to support them to gain the GMC requirements that will enable them to continue their medical careers in the UK and take up posts locally to support the NHS workforce. We have been running our programme since 2019 and to date have had almost 70 doctors participate in our programme, many of whom are already contributing to the local health workforce.

Historically Lincolnshire have carried doctor vacancies for months and years which has affected waiting times for appointments and our mission is to help address this through enabling skilled overseas doctors to fill these vacancies for the benefit of Lincolnshire residents. Our programme members are refugees who are already living within the UK but don’t necessarily live in Lincolnshire when they join our programme, so a large part of achieving our aims is supporting them to relocate to the local area.

We work closely with the Local Authority and housing associations to secure properties for the doctors, but this is becoming ever more difficult to achieve due to the low affordable housing stock across the County. We are now exploring other options, including developing relationships with private landlords, who may consider offering their rents at an affordable level, to support these individuals and in doing so also support the wider local community by bringing medical professionals to the area.

Are you, or do you know of, a landlord that might be in a position to help? If you do please contact either Ruth Ingamells LRDP Operations Director or Carol Hornsey Recruitment and Resettlement Lead for further information.