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      Distance, rurality and the need for care: access to health services in South West England


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          This paper explores the geographical accessibility of health services in urban and rural areas of the South West of England, comparing two measures of geographical access and characterising the areas most remote from hospitals.

          Straight-line distance and drive-time to the nearest general practice (GP) and acute hospital (DGH) were calculated for postcodes and aggregated to 1991 Census wards. The correlation between the two measures was used to identify wards where straight-line distance was not an accurate predictor of drive-time. Wards over 25 km from a DGH were classified as 'remote', and characterised in terms of rurality, deprivation, age structure and health status of the population.


          The access measures were highly correlated (r 2>0.93). The greatest differences were found in coastal and rural wards of the far South West. Median straight-line distance to GPs was 1 km (IQR = 0.6–2 km) and to DGHs, 12 km (IQR = 5–19 km). Deprivation and rates of premature limiting long term illness were raised in areas most distant from hospitals, but there was no evidence of higher premature mortality rates. Half of the wards remote from a DGH were not classed as rural by the Office for National Statistics. Almost a quarter of households in the wards furthest from hospitals had no car, and the proportion of households with access to two or more cars fell in the most remote areas.


          Drive-time is a more accurate measure of access for peripheral and rural areas. Geographical access to health services, especially GPs, is good, but remoteness affects both rural and urban areas: studies concentrating purely on rural areas may underestimate geographical barriers to accessing health care. A sizeable minority of households still had no car in 1991, and few had more than one car, particularly in areas very close to and very distant from hospitals. Better measures of geographical access, which integrate public and private transport availability with distance and travel time, are required if an accurate reflection of the experience those without their own transport is to be obtained.

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          Most cited references31

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          What does 'access to health care' mean?

          Facilitating access is concerned with helping people to command appropriate health care resources in order to preserve or improve their health. Access is a complex concept and at least four aspects require evaluation. If services are available and there is an adequate supply of services, then the opportunity to obtain health care exists, and a population may 'have access' to services. The extent to which a population 'gains access' also depends on financial, organisational and social or cultural barriers that limit the utilisation of services. Thus access measured in terms of utilisation is dependent on the affordability, physical accessibility and acceptability of services and not merely adequacy of supply. Services available must be relevant and effective if the population is to 'gain access to satisfactory health outcomes'. The availability of services, and barriers to access, have to be considered in the context of the differing perspectives, health needs and material and cultural settings of diverse groups in society. Equity of access may be measured in terms of the availability, utilisation or outcomes of services. Both horizontal and vertical dimensions of equity require consideration. Copyright The Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd 2002.
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            Equity of access to health care services: theory and evidence from the UK.

            The pursuit of equity of access to health care is a central objective of many health care systems. This paper first sets out a general theoretical framework within which equity of access can be examined. It then applies the framework by examining the extent to which research evidence has been able to detect systematic inequities of access in UK, where equity of access has been a central focus in the National Health Service since its inception in 1948. Inequity between socio-economic groups is used as an illustrative example, and the extent of inequity of access experienced is explored in each of five service areas: general practitioner consultations; acute hospital care; mental health services; preventative medicine and health promotion; and long-term health care. The paper concludes that there appear to be important inequities in access to some types of health care in the UK, but that the evidence is often methodologically inadequate, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions. In particular, it is difficult to establish the causes of inequities which in turn limits the scope for recommending appropriate policy to reduce inequities of access. The theoretical framework and the lessons learned from the UK are of direct relevance to researchers from other countries seeking to examine equity of access in a wide variety of institutional settings.
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              Car travel time and accessibility by bus to general practitioner services: a study using patient registers and GIS.

              Accessibility to general practitioner (GP) surgeries was investigated in a population study of East Anglia (Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk) in the United Kingdom. Information from patient registers was combined with details of general practitioner surgery locations, road network characteristics, bus routes and community transport services, and a geographical information system (GIS) was used to calculate measures of accessibility to surgeries by public and private transport. Outcome measures included car travel times and indicators of the extent to which bus services could be used to visit GP surgeries. These variables were aggregated for wards or parishes and then compared with socio-economic characteristics of the populations living in those areas. The results indicated that only 10% of residents faced a car journey of more than 10 min to a GP. Some 13% of the population could not reach general medical services by daily bus. For 5% of the population, the car journey to the nearest surgery was longer than 10 min and there was no suitable bus service each weekday. In the remoter rural parishes, the lowest levels of personal mobility and the highest health needs indicators were found in the places with no daytime bus service each weekday and no community transport. The overall extent of accessibility problems and the existence of inverse care law effects in some rural localities have implications for the NHS, which aims to provide an equitable service to people wherever they live. The research also demonstrates the potential of patient registers and GIS as research and planning tools, though the practical difficulties of using these data sources and techniques should not be underestimated.

                Author and article information

                Int J Health Geogr
                International Journal of Health Geographics
                BioMed Central (London )
                29 September 2004
                : 3
                : 21
                [1 ]Health Care Research Unit, CCS Division, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, UK
                [2 ]School of Geography, University of Southampton, UK
                [3 ]International Perinatal Care Unit, Institute of Child Health, London, UK
                Copyright © 2004 Jordan et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


                Public health


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