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'A vital resource for rural communities' is how MP Peter Bradley describes the launch of a new initiative to improv...
'A vital resource for rural communities' is how MP Peter Bradley describes the launch of a new initiative to improve the health and well-being of rural areas of the UK.

The Wrekin MP, who is outgoing chair of the Rural Group of Labour MPs, is the sponsor of a Commons launch today of the new Rural Health Forum. The group will be working for the health and well-being of rural communities by providing a point of national contact for all involved in rural health and promoting partnerships and information exchange.

'The challenges for rural communities in accessing advice and health care

are often overlooked. We should welcome an organisation which will be providing not only focus for debate but also innovative, practical solutions to difficult problems,' says the MP.

Countryside Agency deputy chair Pam Warhurst said 'When a young mother in Cornwall has to make a 12 hour round trip to take her daughter for treatment at the nearest hospital, there is something very wrong with the way health care is delivered in rural areas.

'Yesterday we published our latest report on rural services, which showed that 86% of rural parishes do not have a GP surgery. This makes life very difficult for those people without access to transport, especially older people and mothers with young children. Realistically we cannot expect al villages to have all services locally. The challenge for health authorities is how to provide good quality health care which meets the needs of rural people and in ways they can access easily. The Rural Health Forum can play an important role in identifying the issues, undertaking research and demonstrating practical solutions to providing this vital service in the countryside.'

The Forum has been established at the Institute of Rural Health, based at Gregynog Hall near Newtown, Mid Wales. Its launch at the Jubilee Room in the House of Commons, London at 3.30 pm is to be addressed by the Rt Hon Alun Michael MP, Minister for Rural Affairs, and by Pam Warhurst, Deputy Chair of the Countryside Agency.

Representatives from numerous organisations involved in rural affairs were due at the launch including Health Authorities, Primary Health Care, Rural mental health groups, National Federation of Women's Institutes, New Opportunities Fund, the Voluntary Sector, Churches, Government health officials as well as MPs and Peers.

The Forum will develop:

National and local events (most recent being a conference called 'Floods, Fuel and Foot and Mouth - an interactive conference looking at the impact

of crisis on the health of the countryside' held on September 25);

A web site (launched today) provides information on policy and funding for rural health, current research issues, best practice and innovation. In addition, there will be a discussion and messaging facility;

On-line and paper newsletter.

The new£200,000 three-year initiative is being jointly funded by the Department of Health and the Countryside Agency. The work of the Forum, run by a co-ordinator, is overseen by an Advisory Group consisting representatives from a wide range of agencies and organisations working in rural health.

NOTE: The Institute of Rural Health was established in 1997 to work with individuals and communities to promote health and well being across rural Britain. It organises research programmes, education, conferences, e-health and publications.

The Countryside Agency is responsible for advising government and taking action on issues relating to the social, economic and environmental well being of the English countryside.

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