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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January, 2005, 09:27 GMT
Rural healthcare need 'neglected'
Image of a UK village
Rural areas 'suffer from poor healthcare'
Rural areas are missing out on healthcare, according to a report by the British Medical Association.

Despite the image of the "rural idyll", patients find it difficult to access services and are suffering from a shortage of doctors, it says.

Blaming urban-based health policies, it says more should be done to boost care in rural areas, where up to a quarter of the UK's population live.

Doctors backed calls for incentives to work in rural communities.

Everyone should have access to healthcare services regardless of where they live
Dr Peter Terry, chairman of the BMA in Scotland

The report says many doctors were put off working there as an ageing population means having to deal with more cases of chronic diseases with little support.

Remoteness, lack of public transport and the centralisation of health services mean that many people in rural areas have difficulty accessing healthcare, it adds.

Missing out

Dr Peter Terry, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: "Everyone should have access to healthcare services regardless of where they live."

The BMA said the UK could learn from countries such as Australia and Canada, where innovative solutions to the problems of rural healthcare have been developed.

Head of ethics and science Dr Vivienne Nathanson said there were two priorities.

"We want to see support for people from rural communities into training in medicine in the hope that they'll go back to rural communities," she said.

Twelve years ago I was on a working group looking at rural healthcare and I don't things have moved forward much since then
Dr Bob Dickie

"We want investment in things like tele-medicine, electronic support - to think about how we bring doctors and patients closer together when there may be a long geographical distance.

"If you bring those together you'll have sustainable local services supported by people at a distance."

Dr Bob Dickie, is a GP who works in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.

He said there were recruitment and retention problems.

"We have problems with recruitment and retention. There are fewer applicants for jobs and vacancies stay open for a long time," he said.

"Twelve years ago I was on a working group looking at rural healthcare and I don't things have moved forward much since then.

Long journeys

"Part of the problem is education, part of it is social and part of it is finance."

Dr Gordon Baird, rural health spokesperson for the Royal College of GPs, said: "In my own area in Scotland some patients now have to travel up to 14 hours in a single day travelling to make out-patient appointments.

This is wholly unacceptable and the result of recent national restructuring at the expense of local needs."

A Department of Health spokesperson said the government was committed to improving health care in all areas and had taken on board the need to ensure that policies were tailored to meet the needs of rural people.

The Scottish Executive said it had taken "a number of steps" to address the particular healthcare needs of its rural population.




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