“The government must improve the way it collates information on the health of people who live in rural areas, according to the Local Government Association and Public Health England.
One sixth of areas with the worst health and deprivation levels are located in the countryside, says the organisations said in a joint study released over the weekend.
Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “We often think of rural areas as picture-postcard scenes of rolling green fields and farming land, yet this idyllic image is masking pockets of deprivation and poor health.
“Although many rural areas are affluent, this is not the case for everywhere.”
The report points out 55% of rural households compared to 97% of urban ones are within 8km of a hospital. Eighty per cent of rural residents live within 4km of a GP surgery compared to 98% of the urban population, Health in rural areas highlights.
Rural areas have on average 23.5% of their population over 65 compared with 16.3% of urban areas aged over 65.
“Rural communities are increasingly older, and older people often experience worse health and have greater need of health and care services,” said Seccombe.
“We are also concerned that the make do attitude and reluctance to make a fuss of some older rural residents means they may not seek out health care or treatment when they need it.”
This stores up worse problems later on, she explained, when they will need more serious and emergency care.
Councils could better plan how to provide services and meet the needs of people in rural areas if the government collated better information on health of people in these areas, the LGA and Public Health England believe.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said: “Local authorities are already finding new and imaginative ways of reaching out to people in remote communities who so often go unnoticed.
“This report offers a number of great examples that other areas can use to ensure they do not miss out on the opportunity for better health and wellbeing.”