View from the villages: Rural access to healthcare

GP prescription

Access to Health and social care is a big issue for residents across the Borough. This is true in the urban and rural areas but for residents in the rural area, there can be particular difficulties in physically accessing services, not just GPs but other services such as clinics or the children’s centres.

There can also be difficulties accessing social care support without having to move away from the local community and into town which can be very distressing for residents.

What many residents, however, may not be aware of are the statutory powers that Bedford Borough Council has to scrutinise the provision of health services- both in terms of access and quality.

As a local authority providing social care it has the legal power for councillors to not only scrutinise social care and public policies of the Council itself but also of other bodies – namely the NHS.

This power is in many ways more like a Parliamentary Committee, and unlike most council committees can be much more outward-looking.

Essentially it plays the role of a ‘critical friend’, but the committee does have the power to compel attendance and can refer matters to the Secretary of State for Health if it feels that a proposed major change in provision is not in the interests of local health or a consultation has not been properly conducted.

Health Committees can also work with other committees and directorates such as Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny (as was recently the case when it looked into the Health Visitor Service during Covid earlier this year).

With its broad remit, it is well placed to identify themes that cut across services such as digital exclusion and the lack of signposting to services if you are either isolated geographically or socially.

For example, not all residents have good broadband (especially in the villages), can afford a computer, or have good IT skills to access services online.

Likewise, unless you visit community spaces such as day centres you may not see posters and leaflets about other services – and for many rural residents, this also means the cost of a trip into town.

The health scrutiny committee can be a source of information and engagement on behalf of service providers because as councillors we are in contact with residents and may hear a different story than the providers themselves.

Put bluntly, sometimes it is easier to speak more openly to someone not directly involved.

In the rural area, there are currently a number of parishes actively looking at access to GP surgeries and there is a clear need to ensure that residents are more aware of the services that are available and can access them without prohibitive travel.

I wish it weren’t so but with the current situation at the fuel pumps, we are all very aware of the impacts of the need to travel rather than be able to access certain services locally.

While the committee doesn’t look at individual complaints it is worthwhile remembering that this function exists and to contact your councillor if you do have a health or social care issue whether the service is directly provided by Bedford Borough Council or not.

The more information we have as councillors as to what works and what doesn’t, the better critical friends we can be.

by Cllr Phillippa Martin-Moran-Bryant
Great Barford Ward (comprising Cardington, Cople, Great Barford, Ravensden, Renhold -including Cranbourne Gardens, Willington and Woodlands Park -part of Brickhill Parish)

Tel: 07934 853 907

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