New HEE programme to help tackle health inequalities in rural and coastal areas

Health Education England (HEE) has revealed plans for a new programme to help tackle health inequalities in rural and coastal areas.

A combination of ‘worsening health, ageing populations, social deprivation and workforce staffing issues’ are posing challenges for health and care services in these locations, so it’s hoped the new plans will reduce ill health and inequalities through the use of education, training and digital technology.

HEE will launch evidence-based pilots in selected Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) that are having similar problems with attracting, recruiting, and retaining a healthcare workforce.

The proposals focus on three key pieces of work: widening participation and access to medical schools, with the ‘ambition to increase applications from rural communities’; innovative rural and coastal healthcare apprenticeship programmes; and health literacy programmes, such as Digital Ambassadors, to ‘increase digital and health literacy among members of the public’.

HEE will work closely with ICSs to utilise existing HEE programmes and tailor them to the needs of each population, and the organisation also plans to develop solutions to secure the workforce by ‘learning from global research’ – emphasising the importance of a rural upbringing, positive undergraduate clinical and educational experiences in rural settings, and targeted training for rural practice at postgraduate level.

Patrick Mitchell, Director of Innovation, Transformation and Digital at HEE, said: “We know that rural and coastal communities are facing serious health challenges. Services are having to meet the needs of populations with worsening health and range of significant physical and mental health conditions, while also trying to address staffing shortages in key disciplines.

“Addressing longstanding inequalities requires a new vision for professional practice in rural and coastal areas which is locally distributed, community embedded and where education and learning leads to greater collaboration with other partners in health, care, local authorities, and communities.”