Dr Neil Hudson, MP for England’s largest constituency Penrith and The Border, quizzed the Government on what is being done to improve primary care access in rural areas.
Significant challenges face the smaller rural practices that are part of the cultural fabric of Cumbria’s towns and villages. While clinical staff numbers are up in the constituency and progress is being made with innovative new organisational models, Dr Hudson will keep pressing for progress in this area.
Well aware of the county’s transport and connectivity challenges, Dr Hudson is a passionate advocate for keeping rural practices open and standing up for public and local services in general. As such he tabled a Written Parliamentary Question to Neil O’Brien, the Minister for Primary Care and Public Health, asking what steps his Department has taken to improve primary care access in rural areas.
The Minister’s reply referenced the Conservative Government’s “Our plan for patients” which aims, among other targets, to bolster GP practices and get staff on the front line. This combines with the Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme to boost GP numbers, in areas – many of them rural – that face acute recruitment and retention issues.
Mr O'Brien’s reply stated: “In the Penrith and The Border constituency it is estimated that there was a 38.4% increase in total full-time equivalent clinical staff working in general practice in September 2022 compared to September 2019.”
Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and The Border, said:
“I understand good progress is being made locally with increased Government investment in GP recruitment and innovative staffing models by organisations such as CHoC – however I still believe we must go further to safeguard rural practices and the communities they serve. I also hugely welcome the prospective opening of the new Medical School in Cumbria in 2025, a partnership between the University of Cumbria and Imperial College London. In the long term this will mean doctors trained in Cumbria being available to then live and work in Cumbria in the future.”
The Written Question tabled by Dr Neil Hudson:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what recent steps his Department has taken to improve access to primary care in rural areas.
The reply from Minister for Primary Care and Public Health, Neil O'Brien:
‘Our plan for patients’, announced in September 2022, outlined how we will bolster general practice teams with additional staff, give patients more options when they need care, meet oral health needs and increase access to National Health Service dental care, including in rural areas. We acknowledge that some areas of the country are experiencing recruitment and retention issues with regard to NHS dentistry and GPs and we are taking steps to address these.
The Pharmacy Access Scheme supports access in areas where there are fewer pharmacies by financially supporting those pharmacies. In 2016, the Government launched the Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme, which has attracted hundreds of doctors to train in hard to recruit locations, including many rural areas, by providing a one-off financial incentive of £20,000.
In the Penrith and The Border constituency it is estimated that there was a 38.4% increase in total full-time equivalent clinical staff working in general practice in September 2022 compared to September 2019 (published data: General practice workforce estimates by constituency: 2019 to 2022).