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LGA - ‘Idyllic' countryside masking poor rural health

Poor health in rural areas is being "masked" by idyllic images of the countryside, local government and public health leaders have warned.

A new joint report, published by the Local Government Association and Public Health England, says not enough is known about the health and wellbeing of people living in the countryside.

They warn official statistics are failing to paint an accurate picture of people's health outside our cities. This lack of information is masking pockets of significant deprivation and poor health in rural areas.

The report - "Health in rural areas" - aims to dispel the myth of rural areas being affluent and idyllic communities by warning around one sixth of areas with the worst health and deprivation levels in the country are located in rural areas.

Councils are warning of the increased pressures they face in meeting the needs of an ageing rural population, which is also a longer distance from health services.

Rural areas make up 85 per cent of the land in England and 9.8 million people (19 per cent of the population) live there – a number that is increasing and ageing. They have on average 23.5 per cent of their population over 65 compared with 16.3 per cent of urban areas aged over 65.

Some rural parts, for example in the south, south west, and East Anglia, have the largest proportion of "oldest older" residents, aged 85 and over.

The LGA said this is creating further challenges as older people generally experience worse health and have a greater need of health and care services.

This comes as figures show that 80 per cent of rural residents live within 4km of a GP surgery, compared with 98 per cent of the urban population. Only 55 per cent of rural households compared to 97 per cent of urban ones are within 8km of a hospital.

To address the issue, the LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says government needs to make improvements to how it collates data to capture the health of rural communities, to help councils plan how they provide services and better meet people's health needs.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said:

"We often think of rural areas as picture-postcard scenes of rolling green fields and farming land, yet this idyllic image is masking pockets of deprivation and poor health.

"Although many rural areas are affluent, this is not the case for everywhere. 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.

"Rural communities are also increasingly older, and older people often experience worse health and have 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.

"This stores up worse problems for later on where they require far more serious and emergency care.

"The remoteness of our rural communities from their nearest point of contact with a GP or hospital can leave those residents cut off from getting vital support.

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

Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, said:

"This 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.

"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."


LGA/PHE report "Health in rural areas"

Statistics on deprivation

Rural areas have a larger proportion of older people and smaller proportions of young adults. People over 45 years are more than 50 per cent of those living in rural areas compared with about 40 per cent in urban areas. The proportion of the population aged under 45 years tends to decline the more rural the settlement type.

Defra (September 2016), Statistical Digest of Rural England

Rural areas have on average 23.5 per cent of their population over 65 compared with 16.3 per cent of urban areas aged over 65 (Rural England, Older people in rural areas: vulnerability due to poor health)

Recent research from Rural England found that older people living in rural areas do not seek out health care due to a "make do" attitude and reluctance to "make a fuss". It says many older residents in the countryside only present to health services in moments of emergency or crisis, which often necessitates "more intensive, immediate, invasive and complex" treatment.

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