Wake-up call on rural care

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THE factors that make health provision in rural areas so problematic are both obvious and long established.

A typically older population, coupled with greater distances between health services, places an added burden on resources that in too many cases are already over-stretched.

Any meaningful attempt to address these issues was stymied under the last government, however, with Labour instead transparently focusing both attention and funding on urban areas – for the simple reason that they are traditionally where the party enjoys the most support.

This myopia, however, came at the expense of those living in the countryside – who would have hoped that a Conservative-led coalition would be more sympathetic to their unique circumstances and challenges.

It has not proved to be the case. The decision to do away with the minimum practice income guarantee, which compensates GPs whose surgeries have a low footfall, will only serve to exacerbate the problems that face rural dwellers when it comes to accessing healthcare.

The proportion of people who live around four or more miles away from the nearest GP’s surgery is already well above the national average. Some practices are only open part-time, while others are considering cutting GPs’ hours or merging with bigger surgeries in response to rising operating costs.

It is little wonder then that the Yorkshire-based Rural VCS Policy Group warns that parts of the county are now facing a ticking health timebomb, not least given the future impact of dementia cases in areas with a high proportion of older residents.

The study points out that not only has there been a failure to address existing problems but measures such as the changes to funding and commissioning introduced under last year’s Health and Social Care Act are also hitting services provided by the voluntary and community sector.

As a recent poll by the Countryside Alliance showed, rural voters feel increasingly sidelined by the coalition’s policies. Past loyalties should no longer be taken for granted and, in key areas such as healthcare, the countryside now needs clear evidence that it matters to government in general and the Conservative Party in particular.

Labour’s amnesia

HOW ironic that Labour’s Liam Byrne should blame “chaos” at the Department of Work and Pensions for compromising the coalition’s deficit reduction measures when he is the ex-Treasury minister who left a ‘good luck’ note for his successor, David Laws, in 2010 which read: “Dear chief secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left.”

Mr Byrne’s words had parallels with a similar note left by Tory Reginald Maudling to his Labour successor James Callaghan in 1964: “Good luck, old cock... Sorry to leave it in such a mess.” Yet, while Labour’s current work and pensions spokesman said the missive was written in jest, the financial meltdown presided over by the last Government is no laughing matter for households across the country.

What will perturb many, after a dismal period for Ed Miliband’s party, is that its shadow ministers are happy to blame the coalition for current difficulties when it was the last government which allowed the nation’s benefits bill to spiral out of control, forcing Iain Duncan Smith, in the face of sustained opposition, to introduce far-reaching bills under his ‘work pays’ mantra.When such complex changes are introduced, there will inevitably be teething difficulties. Each welfare recipient has individual needs and most are resentful to any changes which compromise the benevolence to which they have become accustomed.

Yet, rather than sympathising with those who want the status quo to persist, Labour should be endorsing Mr Duncan Smith for trying to reduce a £112bn a year bill that has proved to be so damaging to the nation’s finances. By finding fault, and then saying Labour’s bankers’ bonus will fund a new jobs guarantee for young people – and just about every other policy pledge made by the shadow cabinet – Mr Byrne is reaffirming the view that Labour is still living in the past rather than the present.

Feathered fiends

THE whoop of seagulls may be as synonymous with Scarborough as the whiff of fish and chips and jangle of change from the resort’s many amusement arcades, but the birds now face calls for their numbers to be reduced.

Town councillor Andrew Jenkinson is leading the campaign for a cull amid claims they have sparked a string of complaints.

Everything from raids on seafront litter bins to droppings on footpaths have attracted the ire of council members.

Yet, while it is heartening that the town’s elected representatives are so protective of its image, a Scarborough with fewer seagulls may not go down well with the millions of trippers who flock there each year.

Furthermore, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warns that simple nuisance or minor damage to property are not legally sanctioned reasons to institute a call.

Perhaps it would be simpler for everyone if a few of them could only be persuaded to decamp to Blackpool instead.