PIF member Health Education England (HEE) has unveiled plans to help tackle health inequalities in rural and coastal areas.

A combination of worsening health, ageing populations, social deprivation and workforce staffing issues are leaving health and care services in these locations facing serious challenges.  

New HEE plans set out an ambition to help reduce ill health and inequalities through education, training and use of digital technology.

The plans include health literacy programmes.

Urban-rural health inequalities

Rural communities tend to have older populations than urban areas meaning worse health and a greater need for health and care services.

However, access to services is often poorer than in urban settings.

HEE's announcement coincided with the release of a three-year parliamentary inquiry which revealed an urban-rural divide in accessing healthcare

Patrick Mitchell, director of innovation, transformation and digital at HEE, said: “We know that rural and coastal communities are facing serious health challenges. 

"Services are having to meet the needs of populations with worsening health and range of significant physical and mental health conditions, while also trying to address staffing shortages in key disciplines.

“Addressing longstanding inequalities requires a new vision for professional practice in rural and coastal areas which is locally distributed, community embedded and where education and learning leads to greater collaboration with other partners in health, care, local authorities, and communities."

Increasing digital and health literacy

HEE will launch evidence-based pilots in selected Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) having similar problems attracting, recruiting, and retaining a workforce needed in the face of growing demand.

Its plans focus on three key pieces of work:

  • Widening participation and access to medical schools, with ambition to increase applications from rural communities
  • Innovative rural and coastal healthcare apprenticeship programmes
  • Health literacy programmes, such as Digital Ambassadors, to increase digital and health literacy among members of the public

HEE will work closely with ICS colleagues to utilise existing HEE programmes and tailor them to the needs of each population.

It will also develop solutions to secure the workforce by learning from global research.

In particular, this will focus on the importance of a rural upbringing, positive undergraduate clinical and educational experiences in rural settings and targeted training for rural practice at postgraduate level.

Health Education England