Healthcare in Scotland’s remote and rural areas

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland’s National Academy, in conjunction with the Young Academy of Scotland (YAS), welcomed the opportunity to respond to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee of the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry on healthcare in Scotland’s remote and rural areas. We appreciate the importance of responding to the current challenges facing Scotland’s rural communities and the National Health Service (NHS).


The distinctive characteristics of rural areas, particularly ones remote from centres of population and hubs for the provision of services, personnel and expertise, always pose serious challenges in terms of delivering health and social care.

The RSE advised the Committee to look further at the following issues as part of their inquiry:

  • Recruitment and training issues   
  • Social and environmental factors that impact health.
  • Improving access and delivery of services.
  • Organisations work together to improve community health outcomes.
  • Increasing social support in rural communities.
  • Funding for health and social care services in rural communities.

The RSE notes that there are multiple challenges facing rural communities in Scotland in terms of addressing labour shortages within the healthcare sector and accessing training is “one of the biggest challenges facing rural healthcare workers.” The HSCSC should seek to focus on how to address more effectively problems of recruitment to health and social care services in rural areas due to a lack of applicants with suitable expertise.

The RSE recommends that the inquiry considers whether more should be done to address risk factors for population health that have been reported to be relatively significant in rural, as compared with other areas in Scotland?

The RSE suggests that the Committee looks at what more could be done to enhance outcomes for rural service users in terms of accessibility and satisfaction.

The RSE recommends assessing whether there is scope to extend collaboration across NHS and other sectors to increase the provision of access to health care in remote rural areas via facilities which are based outside NHS facilities.

The RSE also recommends that the Committee considers whether social prescribing can effectively improve health among rural populations.

The RSE advise the Committee to look at whether more attention should be paid to the importance of social cohesion for health and wellbeing in rural Scotland and how to promote social cohesion, especially given the significance of loneliness as a risk for health in remote areas.

The RSE suggests the inquiry looks at how funding for healthcare services in rural areas compares with other parts of Scotland and whether available resources are being used in the most effective ways.