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Written Statement - Rural Health Implementation Plan progress

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Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Health and Social Services

The Rural Health Plan was published in December 2009, following the work of a Steering Group chaired by Lord Elystan Morgan, which identified three key themes of access, integration and community cohesion.

The Rural Health Implementation Group, chaired by Professor Marc Clement, was established in February 2010, to support delivery of the Rural Health Implementation Plan.  The Plan identified 31 actions and good progress has been made in the first year, with over two thirds of the actions delivered in 2010/2011.

In March 2010, £1m funding was allocated to establish the Rural Health Innovation Fund. Further funding of £1.25m has been allocated for 2011 – 2013.  The fund was allocated under three areas to support:

  • Local innovation: 15 local projects were funded and included initiatives to improve access to services such as hospice at home; mobile outreach services, telemedicine services, Third Sector engagement and co-ordination and innovative community pharmacy pilots.
  • Two development sites: Hywel Dda and Powys were identified as Rural Health Development Sites to test new models of working in rural areas.
  • National programmes: Two national work streams were identified and developed.  The first explored the further potential for telemedicine addressing access to services across rural Wales.  The second considered issues in developing rural health practice setting out potential opportunities for the model of care and workforce along with professional development.    

Building on the good progress made in the first year, I have now agreed the Rural Health Implementation Group recommendations for Phase II implementation.   Phase II of the Rural Health Plan will focus on the following six key areas of work: 

  • Local Innovation:  Sharing good practice and building on developments to date.
  • Rural Health National Development Collaborative :  The two existing Rural Health development sites will be reconfigured into one joint collaborative, providing a forum to work together to develop and share best practice to ensure services can best meet health needs across rural areas. 
  • Telehealthcare Developments:  Telehealthcare provides an opportunity for the NHS to work closely with the whole public sector to secure the best possible services and the best use of resources for those living in rural areas.   The next phase will build on the work to date, including developing and expanding the application of the eight clinical areas tested, including dermatology, paediatric cardiology and ophthalmology, more widely across rural Wales.
  • Rural Health Workforce:  Further work will be undertaken with the Deanery and other partners to strengthen the rural health workforce, including addressing recruitment and retention issues, development of rural medical careers, training and clinical skills development and promoting rural medical practice as a key discipline.
  • Community Cohesion and community infrastructures:  Opportunities to link to other developments, including the Community Hubs Scheme with Third Sector and volunteer support networks developed. 
  • Active Ageing in Rural Communities:  Active Ageing in Rural Communities has been identified as a key EU theme in 2012. Work will be undertaken, in partnership with the WLGA and their rural health sub group, to explore opportunities to create a supportive environment for older people in rural communities.