Accessing health and care services in rural areas

28 March 2022
Female doctor chats to senior male patient
Volunteer helping an elderly woman go shopping
Elderly man and boy gardening
The challenges of accessing health and care services in rural areas… and the power of communities and partnership working

Many people perceive that the local population in rural areas is healthier with a higher life expectancy than for those living in urban areas and this is often the case.

However, accessing health and care services in rural areas can be a complicated business with many challenges for both providers and local populations. When you consider hidden pockets of deprivation, an ageing population and poor infrastructure over a vast geographic area like North Yorkshire, delivering health services in rural areas can often be difficult.

Rural communities can experience difficulties accessing health services with pharmacies and GPs often located miles away in rural ‘hub’ towns. Add to the mix rising fuel costs and a reduced rural community transport service – how do people get the help they need?

Demographic changes mean that older people in rural areas don’t often live near their families, who may be priced out of their home areas due to a lack of affordable housing. With poor access to broadband and mobile connectivity issues, you suddenly find yourself with large cohorts of older people who are experiencing loneliness and isolation, both of which we know are detrimental to health and wellbeing. These experiences are often shared by cohorts of younger people who equally have challenges accessing services and opportunities.

Within our West Yorkshire Integrated Care System (ICS) the Craven District, with its principle market towns of Settle and Skipton, is the most rural district within our system.

All this paints a rather gloomy picture of the challenges facing rural and increased likelihood of poorer health outcomes for some rural areas, particularly those that are sparsely populated such as North Craven. However, the Craven District has many community assets spread across its 450 square miles and a diverse mix of charities, community groups and social enterprises supporting communities to remain connected and healthy.

There are some fantastic examples of voluntary and community sector groups in Craven particularly during the pandemic.

I’ve been looking at the vital work of Skipton Step into Action, the mutual aid group set up to mobilse volunteer support for Skipton and surrounding communities working in partnership with health and care partners. This community based service has been a lifeline for many rural older residents and families isolating during the pandemic. There are similar examples across the district including Grassington Community Hub; and the development of The Place in Settle, a new health and wellbeing venue which is a collaborative initiative developed by a combination of local charities including Age UK North Craven; Dementia Forward; Pioneer Projects; Citizens Advice and the local GP surgery. This is enabling many local charities and public partners to provide services which support people’s health and well-being.

Other examples include:

Age UK North Craven’s telephone befriending service is bringing friendship and tackling loneliness in the district. Their regular clubs, lunches and activities in remote parts of the district are bringing company and health benefits, including their Movement to Music sessions, Walking Football and Walking Rugby.

Skipton Extended Learning for All (SELFA) works across the district providing activities and services for children, young people and families in market towns and rural areas. Whilst these activities are very inclusive and focussed on the distinct needs of local communities, they are also empowering for young people and families in shaping and delivering activities within rural places. SELFA is a great example of a home grown Craven District charity which has and continues to respond to the changing needs of our younger population and their families.

Skipton & Craven Action for Disability’s community transport service provides a vital connection for people with mental health illnesses or a disability – taking people shopping or to medical appointments or simply to the hairdressers – enabling people to remain connected and social.

If you would like to know more about the difference the voluntary and community sector makes across the Craven District then please visit Compass e Hub.

Many community and voluntary sector groups are members of the Craven Communities Together Partnership which is where the sector collaborates with health and care partners to improve health outcomes across all communities by making best use of all resources, and working in strengths based way to release and realise the power of communities.

By Mark Hopley, VCSE Health Partnership Development Manager


Source: Local Government Association and Public Health England – Health & Wellbeing in Rural Areas (2017)