The Rural Healthcare Desert


The Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress in May identified that the countryside is becoming a healthcare desert. Some rural patients are forced to take £100 taxi rides to make outpatient appointments at their nearest hospitals. The closure of small rural hospitals and GP practices is meaning larger and larger gaps in services. The chances of a ‘digital first’ NHS are also extremely limited in the countryside due to poor broadband and rural mobile signals.

People who live in towns often have an idealised view of the countryside as idyllic covered in cottages with roses around the door. What they don’t think about is that an ambulance can take an hour to get to a person having a heart attack because it has come from 25 miles away. Patients in rural locations have very real difficulties in accessing emergency services and regular healthcare. This is a problem for government to deal with. Some areas of the rural UK are being left behind.

It is all very well having a national health service but if it doesn’t reach all parts of the country it is not national. In some parts of the country people are facing 60-mile round trips to get to the hospital for an appointment. This can make the difference between the decision to attend an appointment and not.

It is not fair that just because some people don’t live in towns they are forced to put up with a second rate healthcare system. The problem is that rural UK is sparsely populated compared to towns. This means there are fewer voters living there so it is easier to overlook. The needs of the countryside are often left unattended to. With successive governments ignoring the needs of the countryside the problem has become acute.

Governments keep promising to do something about rural broadband, but it remains in a terrible state. With poor mobile phone coverage it means that many of the cutting-edge aspects of the NHS are being lost out on in the countryside. Nurses travelling to patients’ homes may not be able to download test results due to poor mobile coverage and broadband.

It is a real challenge to any government to do something about the state of healthcare in the countryside. Something needs to be done fast as the problem is only going to get worse if it is not addressed. At the moment people are being left behind and it is not acceptable.