The effect of COVID-19 on rural health services has been examined by the Nuffield Trust.
The article, Rural, remote and at risk: Why rural health services face a steep climb to recovery from Covid-19, explores how the pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges of rural service provision, as well as thrown up new ones.
- The more detrimental effect on hospital waiting times in rural and remote trusts than for trusts in more urban areas. In April 2020, the proportion of patients seen for their first consultant appointment for cancer fell by two-thirds (66 per cent) in rural trusts compared with April 2019, whereas a decrease of 59 per cent was seen in trusts located in more urban areas.
- Emergency admissions in April to June 2020 fell by 57 per cent in rural trusts compared with the year before, compared to 45 per cent elsewhere. The level of referral for talking therapies – via the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme – in rural areas was below half the level in April 2020 than it was a year before.
In general, rural areas experience higher travel costs and unproductive staff time when travelling, more expensive or problematic access to resources and hard-to-realise economies of scale.
Although recruitment and retention and staff costs are traditionally more problematic in rural areas, compared to urban ones, in the year to June 2020, rural communities experienced an increase of 1.1 per cent (+124) of GPs, compared to a rise of 0.7 per cent (+145) in rural areas, according to Nuffield Trust suggested data.