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Care homes can be redefined as rural community hubs, MPs hear

Care homes could be redefined as community hubs to support people in rural communities, a three-year investigation into rural health and care has heard.

Contributing to an MP report into rural health & social care, Professor Martin Green of Care England highlighted that care homes have the potential to offer advice to informal carers and offer services such as food delivery and laundry, and house the local shop, library or post office. He said there needed to be a new discussion around care needs which could feed into locality planning processes. He said: “When people think about care they think about decline. We need to make going into a care home more normal to demystify this”.

The report found that social care recruitment in rural areas is overshadowed by low wages, onerous travel times and lack of locally based training. This creates conditions that have led to high turn-over and a shortage of nurses and care workers in rural areas, as well as significant financial vulnerability.  MPs sitting on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) were warned that any short-term loss of care homes will exacerbate a lack of choice and opportunity in the rural/ coastal parts of the county, as well as lose experienced and knowledgeable staff.

A key recommendation in the report is to address rural health and care funding arrangements to account for the true cost of rural health services.

Whilst the cost of social care is recognised to be an issue nationally, the inquiry was told that rural local authorities spend a disproportionately higher share of their budget on these services and local council taxpayers have to fund more costs than their urban counterparts.   

Another recommendation is to encourage care homes to provide future student learning placements.  

Chaired by Newton Abbott MP Anne Marie Morris, a new report calls for Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) to build understanding of the distinctive health and care needs of rural areas and deliver services that are suited to the specific needs of rural places. Supporting this will be a structural and regulatory framework that fosters adaption and innovation, the report recommends.

The APPG report into rural health & social care finds that pandemic-linked growth in rural populations should highlight the need for Government to take notice of the impact on services of the growing rural population. Currently around 17 per cent of England’s population (2020) – or 9.7 million people – lived in rural areas.

Among its highlights is the finding that there are flaws in the current system of identifying rural health inequalities because of inappropriate data collection methods. This means that the extra costs of providing health and care in rural areas are not fully reflected in the current funding formula, resulting in rural residents receiving a lower level of care compared to their urban counterparts.

Alongside funding, the investigation also notes the lack of professionally qualified staff, public transport, poor broadband and network access as significant constraints to the delivery of accessible health and social care in rural areas. Rural residents also face higher costs and greater difficulty and distance accessing specialist and emergency services.

Commenting, Anne Marie Morris MP, Chair of APPG on Rural Health & Social Care said: “The realities of rural health provision have become very apparent. “Without clear changes in policy direction and decision-making, the situation will move from urgent to critical. Our rural communities deserve better health and care. This report shows how we can make this happen.”

Professor Richard Parish CBE, executive chair of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care and report author, added: “The current ‘one size fits all’ model is ineffective and inefficient. If we are truly serious about ‘levelling up’, we must ensure that rural residents have the same access to timely, quality services as their urban counterparts.”

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