University awarded £1 million to address inequalities in rural and island healthcare

University awarded £1 million to address inequalities in rural and island healthcare

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen have been awarded £996,081 from the Scottish Government's Chief Scientist Office to fund a 5-year project that will examine healthcare inequalities in rural and island areas.

  • Healthcare inequalities exist between rural and island, and more populated areas in Scotland 

  • Team awarded £1 million from Chief Scientist Office to investigate poorer rural and island healthcare outcomes 

  • Research will focus on cancer, musculoskeletal conditions and frailty 

  • Interviews available 

  • Case study interviews available  

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen have been awarded £996,081 from the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office to fund a five-year project that will examine healthcare inequalities in rural and island areas.

The multi-disciplinary research team combines expertise from clinical medicine, health service research, health economics and human geography.  It will also include the perspective of a patient who lives in remote rural Scotland and has lived experience of chronic long-term health conditions.

The project will look at important rural health inequalities, how they are caused, and effective ways to address them. Ultimately, it will support the delivery of existing policy and inform the design of future rural and island policy, promoting social justice and enhancing the wellbeing of all Scotland’s residents, regardless of where they live.

The research will focus initially on three common health issues: cancer, musculoskeletal conditions and frailty which will give insight into acute and longer-term conditions across different age groups and health conditions treated locally and in specialist centres.

Over the term of the project, the team will use interviews and data analysis to determine how people living in rural and island Scotland experience health services and identify when they are disadvantaged. Local, national and international policies that support care delivery in rural areas will also be examined to create guidance to support local and national service planning.

Professor of Primary Care at the University of Aberdeen and co-Principal Investigator of the project, Professor Peter Murchie said: “People who live in rural and island communities can receive less or different healthcare from those living in urban areas, resulting in poorer health.

“Significant research gaps remain in our understanding of what care is available in different places, how this affects patients and how healthcare services could better meet the needs of rural and island areas. 

“Our research will involve patients, healthcare professionals, those who plan and manage healthcare services and the wider rural population which will allow us to develop evidence-based recommendations for the future."

Dr Rosemary Hollick, Senior Clinical lecturer at the University and co-Principal Investigator of the project adds: “Musculoskeletal conditions affect around one third of the adult Scottish population. They are associated with pain, stiffness and fatigue and are amongst the most common reasons why people take time off work or even leave their jobs.  These conditions are also the most common cause of disability in older adults, and this is particularly a problem in rural communities with increasingly older populations and where social isolation and lack of carers presents additional challenges.” 

Lorna Philip, Professor of Human Geography at the University and collaborator in the project added: “Scotland’s rural and island communities are diverse so we have designed this research in a way that will allow us to explore healthcare inequalities in different types of rural and island communities. 

“This will ensure that our recommendations for future healthcare take into account the needs to those who live in, for example, remote mainland rural communities, small islands in the inner Hebrides and communities in close proximity to cities like Aberdeen.” 

Health Secretary Neil Gray said: “I am pleased to announce five Scottish institutions – the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Strathclyde, as well as Public Health Scotland, have been awarded £1 million of funding each through the Chief Scientist Office to conduct major research programmes into areas of population health. These five programmes have the potential to make a significant impact and can play a vital part in our on-going work in this field.”

Michelle Stevenson, lives in rural Scotland and decided to get involved in the project so she could share her own experiences. Michelle said: “I wanted to get involved in this project because addressing rural inequalities in health is very important to me, my family and my community.

“I have a chronic inflammatory arthritis for which I receive strong medication to suppress my immune system. As a result, I recently developed an infection in my hip which was very serious and resulted in an emergency admission to hospital over an hour from my home in the Highlands.

“I needed to continue strong intravenous antibiotics at home but because there were no local district nurses I had to travel 120-mile round trip three days a week to receive this. 

“I’m now receiving regular intensive rehabilitation at the rheumatology unit in Dingwall which means being an inpatient for three weeks at a time, away from my family and friends. This has brought home to me the real, complex challenges faced by people living in rural communities to access health and social care.”

 

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