Nurses demand action to end crisis in rural healthcare

23 May 2019

UK governments need to take urgent action to address the chronic shortage of nursing staff and supporting infrastructure in rural areas.

Today (23 May) at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual Congress, nurses demanded action from all UK governments to address the chronic shortage of nursing staff and supporting infrastructure in rural areas.

Poor broadband access, a lack of public transport, cuts to local health facilities and a lack of registered nurses is placing rural nurses under unsustainable pressure, making it impossible to exploit digital technology and risking patient safety, delegates said today. 

Across the UK government policy is for more nursing care to be delivered in the community and people’s homes to reduce lengths of stay in hospital and avoid unplanned admissions.  But these policies have not been followed up with support to deliver this vision, including the provision of a workforce strategy to ensure there are enough registered nurses to treat patients safely and effectively in rural areas.

Delegates heard that:

  • The closure or relocation of community services including eye and dermatology clinics, pharmacies and child services has led some patients to travel significant distances to be treated or attend routine appointments.
  • Nurses are unable to make use of information technology – such as assessing patient’s records or care plans on laptops or tablets – due to poor rural broadband access.
  • Poor public and hospital transport provision is forcing some older people to undertake long and expensive taxi journeys for appointments.

District nursing teams are key to the delivery of safe and effective care across the UK, In Scotland, district nursing teams are working at capacity, with less than 3,500 district nursing staff to provide care to a population of over 5 million. RCN Scotland has previously published a report looking at developing mobile technologies for Scotland’s district nursing teams and calling on Scottish Government to prioritise investment in this area.

Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland Director, said:

“The commitment and dedication of primary care teams in rural areas is clear but equally clear is their frustration when a lack of resources leaves them unable to provide the quality of care they would like. They are stretched to the limit, constantly being asked to do more with less. Many of the hospital capacity issues we have seen over the winter months are a symptom of a lack of resources in the community. 

“A well-resourced, 24/7 district nursing team can prevent hospital admission and help those in hospital return home safely and quickly. The Scottish Government will only deliver on the reduction in GP workload – as set out in the new GP contract – by addressing the recruitment and retention challenges across all aspects of the primary care workforce. With a district nursing vacancy rate of more than nine per cent and the financial pressures on integration authorities, this must be addressed.”


Page last updated - 21/10/2019