Lansley pledges fairer funding deal for rural health services

NHS bosses in rural areas will finally receive the funding they require to deliver healthcare services in remote communities, the Health Secretary has pledged.

Andrew Lansley told the Yorkshire Post yesterday that a massive shake-up of the way NHS funds are distributed will see the issues faced by trusts in rural areas such as North Yorkshire taken into account for the first time.

However he also warned that ‘labour market forces” will also be taken into account as part of the funding overhaul – a clear hint that he intends to drive forward local pay bargaining that could see low-wage areas hit hard.

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Healthcare bosses in North Yorkshire and other more remote areas have long argued that they need more funds to deliver services to people in far-flung communities – particularly as the NHS pushes forward with efforts to have more people treated at home or within their own community rather than in expensive hospitals.

Mr Lansley made it clear yesterday that he now accepts the “geography” of a local area must play a part in how funds are handed out.

“Rurality is one of the issues that in the past the NHS – with the exception of money given to ambulance trusts – has taken no account of,” the Health Secretary said. “But if you actually want to provide equal access for equal need, then you do need to take account of the geography of the services in the area you are talking about.

“So things like market forces and labour market pressures, rurality and so on should form part of the overall formula for the allocation for services.”

Mr Lansley attracted controversy last month when he said the same funding process would also see greater emphasis put on areas with older populations, at the expense of those where communities suffer widespread deprivation.

A recent study in the British Medical Journal warned that areas such as Yorkshire and Humber would lose huge amounts of funding if services are reconfigured in that way.

But Mr Lansley attacked what he said was a “gross misrepresentation” of his position by the Labour Party, insisting deprivation will still be a key factor in deciding how money is handed out.

“The biggest component in deciding what leads to demand for healthcare services is age,” he said. “It’s not the only one – age; relative deprivation; a whole range of such things goes to making up the formula.

“What I said a few weeks ago was that age hadn’t been given the weighting it ought to be done, and objectively speaking that is true – but it doesn’t mean it’s the only issue.”

He went on: “What the Labour Party has done, which is a gross misrepresentation, is to say what would happen if age was the only factor upon which the formula was constructed. I never said that.”

Mr Lansley will today head to the House of Commons to unveil the NHS’s annual performance report – a new measure included in his controversial Health and Social Care Act which he said will “increase accountability”.

The Health Secretary insisted the NHS has “performed well” over the past 12 months, highlighting figures showing 94 per cent of patients in Yorkshire and Humber were treated within 18 weeks during 2011/12.

“We have seen an improvement since the election,” he said.

He said cases of the infections MRSA and C. Diff are down 28 per cent and 16 per cent respectively, and that there were just three cases in the entire year when hospitals in the region had broken mixed sex ward rules – down from 211 cases the previous year.

“The performance has been excellent, and credit for that goes to NHS staff,” he added.