WMN opinion: Threat to surgeries is a threat to rural community
If one was to imagine a place where David Cameron's Big Society might just work, or even already exist, it would almost certainly be a rural community.
If one were to imagine a place where localism really might begin to make a difference – that same rural community might be at the forefront of one's mind.
The trouble is that rural communities are find themselves under increasing and constant pressure.
Local shops, village churches, pubs, sports teams and local societies are closing or amalgamating in droves. Young people leave in search of work, or are forced to leave through lack of affordable housing.
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And increasingly towns and villages are losing the sort of community feel and spirit that made them such special places, so dearly cherished by those that grew up in them.
Living in rural Devon and Cornwall is not easy. Rocketing fuel prices, inadequate public transport and a lack of jobs, particularly for young people, have seen to that.
Today we report that small rural doctors' surgeries across the Westcountry could be forced to close because of contract changes being forced through by the Government.
The warning comes from the Family Doctor Association amid growing disquiet among GPs over a move to switch £164 million of funding away from administrative duties to incentives for them to target certain medical conditions.
Dr Peter Swinyard, chairman of the association which represents more than 1,000 practices, said the changes would see smaller practices squeezed "until the pips squeak".
Doctors in the region have already expressed their own concerns, with a survey revealing fears that two thirds of surgeries in the may struggle to remain viable after the changes.
There is also increased pressure on surgeries and community medical staff as a result of the transfer of some work out of the hospital sector.
If these fears are realised, there is little doubt that it will be the smallest, a remotest, rural surgeries that are affected.
If any had to close, another vital "hub" would be lost to the community it serves, and patients would have to face the complications of travel, simply to see their GP.
Peter Merrin, chairman of the Cornwall and Isles Of Scilly Local Medical Committee, has urged family doctors to look at better ways of working together, and smarter use of resources.
We must all hope that our surgeries can find ways to operate under the new contract, and that more damage is not done to the hearts of our rural communities.
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The extraordinary rescue of a Dartmoor pony from cliffs on Rame Peninsula was a triumph of creative thinking and effective teamwork. The coastguard, the RSPCA, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, 539 Squadron and all the others involved have every right to feel proud. Well done.