NHS managers have been challenged to face head on the danger to rural areas posed by increasing specialisation and centralisation of services.At a Rural Health Forum conference in Warwickshire, delegates were told that the needs of rural areas could be compromised by current trends in the NHS.
According to a recent survey 83 per cent of rural parishes in England have no resident GP, 91 per cent have no dentist, and 89 per cent no independent pharmacy.
The Countryside Agency has promised to work with the NHS on partnership ventures such as sharing of premises and facilities, so a range of community health services remain viable.
Diss Health Centre in Norfolk has been cited as an effective example of how the local health authority, social services, practitioners and a car scheme operator can work together to provide economies of scale that benefit the user.
The Countryside Agency is also working with rural pilot Health Action Zones in Cumbria, Northumberland, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and the South Yorkshire coalfield communities.
The Institute of Rural Health, which organised the conference, acts as the UK centre of excellence in rural health. It aims to ensure that rural and isolated communities receive the highest quality health care possible through research, information gathering and dissemination, education and training, networking, and use of technology in rural health care.