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Chris Whitty calls to review if current funding deters GPs in coastal areas

by Jess Hacker
21 July 2021

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England’s chief medical officer has called for a review into whether current funding is deterring GPs from working in coastal practices.

In his annual report published today (21 July), Chris Whitty recommended the DHSC and Health Education England (HEE) ‘review whether current funding arrangements are a disincentive to GP, nursing and other NHS and social care workers moving to coastal areas’.

Despite serving older, more deprived communities with a greater prevalence of disease, the report found that coastal communities have 15% fewer consultants per patient than the national average.

The new research, conducted by HEE, showed that these communities also have 16.1% fewer GP trainees per patient with learning disabilities, while there are 21.3% fewer GP trainees per patient with chronic kidney disease.

It said: ‘This analysis has highlighted the need to specifically consider the challenges facing coastal communities and to ensure we are training the future workforce to better align with where their skills are needed.’

HEE and the NHS are currently working to distribute medical training more equitably to better match the NHS workforce to geographical and specialty need, it added.

Recent NHS data revealed that only 111 fully-qualified FTE GPs joined the health service in England between March 2020 and March 2021: an increase of just 0.4% to a total of 28,096.

The Institute for General Practice Management (IGPM) said at the time that managers must be alert to preventing triggers which might lead to a staff member handing in their notice.

Cross-government strategy needed

The report found that attracting NHS and social care staff to peripheral areas like coastal towns is harder than it is elsewhere in the country.

It suggested that catchment areas for health services are ‘artificially’ reduced and transport is often limited, in turn limiting job opportunities.

Similarly, an oversupply of guest housing has led to a high number of house shares which are known to lead to concentrations of deprivation and ill health.

Professor Whitty’s new report called for a cross-government national strategy to improve the health and wellbeing of coastal communities.

This strategy should incorporate key drivers such as housing, environment, education, employment and transport.

Additionally, there needs to be substantial improvement on the lack of data and actionable research into the health needs of coastal communities, it said.

It added that research funders need to provide incentives for research aimed specifically at improving coastal community health.

Poor coastal health ‘hidden’

Professor Whitty said that coastal areas ‘have some of the worst health outcomes with low life expectancy and high rates of many major diseases’.

These communities have often been ‘overlooked by governments’, with their populations’ ill-health ‘hidden’ because the outcomes are merged with wealthier inland areas.

‘A national strategy informed by local leaders and experts will help reduce inequalities and preventable ill health,’ he added.

‘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.’