15/01/2014 - Permalink

Shropshire health leaders urge review of funding to reflect local pressures

Related topics: Health

Two of Shropshire’s principal health leaders have called on the Government to rethink the way health funding in the county is allocated. 

Dr Caron Morton, Accountable Officer with Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and Professor Rod Thomson, Shropshire Council’s director of public health, believe the county is being unreasonably disadvantaged because of its rural nature and that patient welfare could suffer. 

They have now vowed to campaign for fairer funding for patients in Shropshire, particularly older people and those living in remote communities. 

The Government recently announced the funding the CCG will receive for the next five years.  It will receive £347 million to pay for a wide range of health services over the forthcoming year.  However, it amounts to a real-terms reduction of £16 million over the five years, at a time when costs are increasing. 

Dr Caron Morton said:

“We were surprised and indeed shocked when the announcement was made, and since then we have been looking carefully at the very complex data that lies behind the big figures. 

“We appreciate there are spending pressures everywhere, but it is clear to us that Shropshire is losing out due to its unique health profile.  We have a combination of rurality, deprivation, a rapidly-ageing population, and an increase in people with long-term conditions that need management and treatment. 

“Those factors rarely come together elsewhere, and it means delivering healthcare in Shropshire is very expensive compared to other areas of the country.” 

Dr Morton believes the county is being disadvantaged by changes to the complex funding formula used to allocate health resources, and a reduced importance being given to the age profile of local populations. 

She pointed to recent high-profile cases involving ambulance response times in the county to illustrate the difficulties faced. 

She said:

“It is quite obvious that ambulances need to travel longer distances to reach the best facilities to treat patients in a large rural area.  It is an example of where we would like to increase funding if we had the financial resources.” 

Professor Rod Thomson added:

“If you look at the figures for the public health grants to different councils, you can see that generally rural areas receive a much lower grant per head than the more urban councils; for example, the public health grant for Shropshire is £29 per head, well below the national average of £49 per head. 

“In contrast, Westminster receives £133 and Kensington and Chelsea receives £130 per head respectively.  Comparing these figures for two of the most affluent areas of London to the £29 per head Shropshire receives, you can begin see the disparity between rural and urban areas. 

“There are unique challenges in rural public health – the sparsely populated areas and dispersed market towns all need to be catered for, in many cases individually.  Unlike where people are living in a densely populated environment, we can’t get the same economies of scale with our demographics.” 

Karen Calder, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for health, and Councillor Cecilia Motley, spokesperson for rural affairs and Chair of Rural Services Network, support the comments of the two health chiefs, adding:

“We are absolutely committed to enhancing the quality of life for Shropshire’s communities and ensuring they get access to the services that meet their health needs.  As a council we have been lobbying hard for some time about our rural communities being disadvantaged by changes to the public health grant formula.

“The responses from Shropshire’s recent Rural Health Survey will help us identify and address the special challenges faced by rural communities.  We will ensure these findings are made available to MPs and councillors in support of our aim to eliminate health inequalities and help to make a positive difference to the lives of local people.”