TO politicians looking to score cheap points off their opponents, there is a tendency to view NHS staff as numbers – exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions are invariably dominated by the ritual trading of statistics over the number of doctors, nurses and so forth.
To patients in need of medical treatment, or advice, their local GP is not a statistic. They’re a lifeline, a point of contact, and this is particularly pertinent in Yorkshire’s rural heartlands where the consolidation of health services has inevitably seen them become more remote.
And it is why Matt Hancock, the newly-appointed Health Secretary, needs to recognise this difference as he begins his work. As MP for the Suffolk racing town of Newmarket and surrounding area, he should, at the very least, understand and, hopefully, appreciate the policy challenges facing countryside communities.
Yet, while so much policy work, and investment, focuses on major cities where there is the greatest need, as well as dedicated centres of medical excellence, Mr Hancock needs to remember that some rural practices can serve up to 500 square miles and the appointment of an additional GP, and nurse practitioner, can make a world of difference.
With staffing shortages even more pronounced in areas like North Yorkshire, Mr Hancock should not only be looking at ways to boost the recruitment – and retention – of a new generation of doctors and nurses who are proud to work of the NHS, but he, and his colleagues, need to start treating the health needs of rural areas as a priority and not an after-thought.