A national strategy for coastal towns is needed to solve their issues with GP shortages, the Government’s chief medical officer has said.
Professor Chris Whitty’s comments came during a speech at the King’s Fund annual conference in London earlier this week.
He said training opportunities should be available in coastal towns and remote areas to encourage healthcare professionals to relocate there.
During the talk attended by Pulse, Professor Whitty said: ‘I think that the biggest thing that we need to work out is what are the incentives to ensure that the right care is provided in the more peripheral areas.
‘And that means providing firstly training opportunities in those areas – that is actually in the long term most important, there’s really clear evidence in medicine that where you train is where you practice.
‘So if you train in London don’t be surprised if people aren’t in Scarborough. Far too few of the training practices in general practice and medical schools are in these peripheral areas and we need to reverse that.
‘I think we need to realise that we’ve really got opportunities for remote medicine which we didn’t have pre-pandemic and we should be making use of that. The days of a two-hour round trip for a GP in Lincolnshire, for example, should be much reduced.’
He also said that financial incentives should be offered to people moving to under-doctored areas.
Professor Whitty added: ‘We should be providing financial incentives in both health and social care so that people on average have an incentive to go work in these areas.
‘And we should have a strategy that is a national strategy for coastal areas, because expecting every single local authority to have its own strategy for its own coastal town, and having to reinvent stuff and work out what’s there, doesn’t really make sense.’
Professor Whitty had called for a national strategy for coastal towns in his 2021 Chief Medical Officer’s Report.
Its central argument was that the health challenges of coastal towns, cities and other communities ‘are serious’.
The report said: ‘This means a national strategy to address the repeated problems of health in coastal communities is needed in addition to local action.
‘If we do not tackle the health problems of coastal communities vigorously and systematically there will be a long tail of preventable ill health which will get worse as current populations age.’
A major Pulse investigation last year mapped the postcodes of 474 permanently closed practices, including many in coastal towns, against the deprivation index, and found a link between deprivation and closure, with the median deprivation score of permanently closed practices well below the median deprivation score of all UK practices.
The Government said last month that since 2021 the Coastal Communities Fund, which supports the economic development of coastal communities across the UK ‘by providing funding to create growth and jobs’, over £229 million has been invested in 369 projects across the UK.
Earlier this month, a local council decided it will ask the Government for help to fund housing for GPs, in a bid to encourage them to relocate to its under-doctored area.
In January, GPs were being offered £15,000 as well as support in relocating, to join practices in deprived and under-staffed areas of the South of England.