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Limited rural healthcare continues

People living in rural areas are missing out on healthcare says a new report from the British Medical Association.

People living in rural areas are missing out on healthcare says a new report from the British Medical Association (BMA). Despite the image of the "rural idyll", patients find it difficult to access services and are suffering from a shortage of doctors, it says.

Blaming urban-based health policies, it says more should be done to boost care in rural areas, where up to a quarter of the UK's population live. Doctors backed calls for incentives to work in rural communities.

The report says many doctors were put off working there as an ageing population means having to deal with more cases of chronic diseases with little support.

Remoteness, lack of public transport and the centralisation of health services mean that many people in rural areas have difficulty accessing healthcare, it adds.

Dr Peter Terry, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: "Everyone should have access to healthcare services regardless of where they live."

The BMA said the UK could learn from countries such as Australia and Canada, where innovative solutions to the problems of rural healthcare have been developed.

Head of ethics and science Dr Vivienne Nathanson said there were two priorities.

"We want to see support for people from rural communities into training in medicine in the hope that they'll go back to rural communities," she said.

"We want investment in things like tele-medicine, electronic support - to think about how we bring doctors and patients closer together when there may be a long geographical distance.

"If you bring those together you'll have sustainable local services supported by people at a distance."

Dr Bob Dickie, is a GP who works in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. He said there were recruitment and retention problems.

"We have problems with recruitment and retention. There are fewer applicants for jobs and vacancies stay open for a long time," he said.

"Twelve years ago I was on a working group looking at rural healthcare and I don't think things have moved forward much since then. Part of the problem is education, part of it is social and part of it is finance."

The Scottish Executive said it had taken "a number of steps" to address the particular healthcare needs of its rural population.

2nd September 2008

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