Rural healthcare in Wales: challenges and opportunities

Published 17/11/2017   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

On Tuesday 5 December 2017, the Research Service, the Learned Society of Wales and Public Health Wales are hosting an Exchanging Ideas Seminar on particular challenges and opportunities arising from the delivery of healthcare services in rural Wales.

Dyma lun o adeilad Pierhead.The event will be chaired by Dai Lloyd AM, Chair of the Assembly’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee. The seminar, which is open to the public and free to attend, will take place in the Main Hall of the Pierhead in Cardiff Bay between 12:00 – 13:30. Visit the Eventbrite page for further information and to register.

What is the policy background?

According to NHS Wales two particular features distinguish the rural from the urban scene in Wales and both have an impact on health conditions.

They are:

  • The problem of access to services for those living in the remoter communities
  • Difficulties with integrating services provided for the individual when some are NHS based with others coming from local government and the voluntary sector.

The recruitment and retention of health and care staff in rural areas is also a particular concern. Swansea Medical School offers a Rural and Remote Health in Medical Education (RRHIME) programme, which aims to increase the numbers of students and doctors practising in rural Wales and raise awareness amongst the students of the benefits and realities of living and working in rural and remote areas.

Previous Welsh Governments have taken various initiatives to address the particular health and care needs of rural areas in Wales. In 2009 a Rural Health Plan – Improving Integrated Service Delivery Across Wales was published. The key themes of this plan were Access, Integration and Community Cohesion. A progress report on implementation of the plan was published in January 2012.

In January 2014, the Welsh Government commissioned the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care to explore the options for the provision of high quality and sustainable healthcare service in Mid Wales. The different needs of rural communities and the cross-boundary challenges of this region suggested the need for a review of the current health and social care systems. In October 2014, the Mid Wales Healthcare Study was published and made twelve recommendations.

One recommendation of the study was that the three Health Boards covering the Mid Wales area, working with the local universities and other partners, should develop and support a “centre of excellence in rural healthcare”. The recommendation for this centre was that it should focus on “research, development and dissemination of evidence in health service research that addresses the particular challenges of Mid Wales”.

A Centre for Excellence in Rural Health and Social Care (CfERH) was formally launched in March 2016, later to be renamed “Rural Health and Care Wales” (RHCW) in March 2017.

What will the seminar explore?

The speakers will focus on

  • Rural population health and care needs
  • Issues surrounding the recruitment and retention of health and care staff.
  • The potential of technology to address rural inequalities and isolation (including Telehealth/Telemedicine/Green Prescribing)
  • Mental health in rural areas

Who will be speaking at the seminar?

The speakers will be:

Dr John Wynn-Jones who has been a rural GP in Wales for 37 years. He has now retired from clinical practice but still continues to work part time at Keele University as a Senior Lecturer in Rural and Global Health. He has also chaired the Rural Working Party of the World Organisation of Family Doctors (Wonca) since 2013.

He was awarded the Royal College of General Practitioners International President’s Medal this year for his work in promoting family medicine around the world. Dr Wynn-Jones will particularly concentrate on issues surrounding the recruitment and retention of health and care staff.

Dr Rachel Rahman is the Director of the Centre for Excellence in Rural Health Research at Aberystwyth University and is a senior lecturer in the Psychology Department. Rachel has extensive experience of conducting research utilising both quantitative and qualitative methodology to understand patient motivations and experiences in chronic disease and end of life care.

Dr Rahman has conducted a range of commissioned pieces of research on behalf of Hywel Dda University Health Board, Ceredigion County Council, and the Funding Council for Wales and is contributing to the Welsh Government agenda of prudent health care by developing unique insights into the use of technology enhanced care services in rural areas. She will talk about issues surrounding support for the health and social care infrastructure in order to deliver effective technology enhanced care services in rural and remote areas.

RHCW Project Manager Anna Prytherch will give an overview of rural population health and social care needs, also reporting on the main issues raised in the recent Rural Health and Care Conference held on 14 November 2017 (“Sustainable Health and Social Care Services in Rural and Remote Places”).

Anna has over 20 years senior managerial and project management experience, gained in public, private and third sector organisations across Wales. She previously worked in education as Vocational Learning Manager and has been a lecturer at Swansea and Aberystwyth Universities. Anna has an avid interest in rural and community matters.

Joy Garfitt is the Assistant Director of Mental Health and Learning Disabilities within Powys Teaching Health Board. Joy took up post in 2016 and since this date has succeeded in completing the repatriation of Mental Health services from Betsi Cadwalder University Health Board, Aneurin Bevan UHB and Abertawe Bro-Morgannwg UHB back into Powys Teaching Health Board in order to improve the services delivered to local people.

In her talk, Joy will share some examples and learning based on the initial stages of Powys’ journey to improve Mental Health services and discuss why service delivery in rural areas requires local design and local solutions, and how we build upon our communities’ innate strengths and resilience to tailor service delivery and improve outcomes.

Interested but can’t join us on the day?

We’re keen to hear what questions you’d like to put to our speakers. You can send these in advance via email to or Twitter using #ExchangingIdeas @SeneddResearch.

We will be publishing a video recording of the seminar on the Assembly website after the event.

This will be our fourth event in the Exchanging Ideas Series. See our video interviews with #ExchangingIdeas speakers from a previous seminar on Growing and diversifying civil society in Wales for an insight into what to expect from the event.

Article by Graham Winter, National Assembly for Wales Research Service