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Health in rural communities not ‘idyllic picture-postcard scene’, warn LGA and PHE

Health problems in countryside communities are being eclipsed by an “idyllic” image painted by government statistics, a report published by the LGA and Public Health England (PHE) has revealed.

The report, called ‘Health in rural areas’, looked into the health of residents of rural communities and seeks to debunk the myth that these areas are all affluent places, showing instead that one-sixth of the country’s most deprived areas are located in the countryside.

It was also warned that increasing pressures on social care and an ageing population in these communities meant that councils were struggling to meet the needs of patients who had to travel further to get access to essential health and social care services.

Countryside communities make up a total of 9.8 million people, with an average of 23.5% of those people aged over 65 compared to the average of 16.3% in urban areas.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said that often rural areas were seen as “picture-postcard scenes of rolling green fields and farming land”, yet this idyllic image is now dangerously masking pockets of deprivation and poor health.

“Although many rural areas are affluent, this is not the case for everywhere,” she said. “The north/south divide can be seen in the countryside as well as the cities.

“And within even the wealthiest rural areas, there are pockets of real hardship, ill health and inequalities.”

Cllr Seccombe added that these communities were increasingly older, and often experienced worse health and had greater need of health and care services.

“We are also concerned that the make-do attitude and reluctance to make a fuss of some older rural residents means they may not seek out health care or treatment when they need it,” she added. “This stores up worse problems for later on where they require far more serious and emergency care.”

The LGA chair also voiced concerns about the remoteness of rural communities from their nearest point of contact with a GP or hospital, something which can leave older residents cut off from getting vital support.

“The health of our rural residents is just as important as those in our towns and cities,” she continued. “They must not be forgotten or left behind.”

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, argued that the publication “busts the myth that poverty, deprivation and ill health are confined to urban, inner city areas”.

“Rural areas are very diverse environments with differing needs, particularly in remote places. Local authorities are already finding new and imaginative ways of reaching out to people in remote communities who so often go unnoticed,” he said.

“This report offers a number of great examples that other areas can use to ensure they do not miss out on the opportunity for better health and wellbeing.”

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