SOCIAL care staff in rural areas are facing significant barriers to Covid-19 testing, according to a study of the pandemic’s impact on rural councils.

Seven in ten of those questioned by the Rural Services Network (RSN), of which Northumberland County Council is a member, warned that social care workers in their local authority area were having to travel at least half an hour by car to access their nearest testing facility, with nearly a quarter having to travel up to an hour.

The consultation, which examined the experiences of council officers or elected members in 20 predominantly rural councils across England, found that four in five rural social care workers lacked adequate access to testing.

The same proportion (81 per cent) said that social care service users in their area had faced similar problems.

As seen across England, there were specific challenges over access to sufficient PPE for rural care workers – three quarters struggled with this, while two thirds reported that uncertainty over government guidance was a specific challenge.

Prior research has found that less public funding is directed towards rural residents than in urban areas, despite the higher cost of providing social care services in more remote towns and villages.

In 2020-21, the average predominantly urban resident will attract £40 per head in Improved Better Care Funding, £7 per head more than rural residents per head (£33).

Graham Biggs, the RSN’s chief executive, said: "The findings of this survey are very worrying.

"The Government, as a matter of extreme urgency, should complete its Fair Funding Review and implement it for 2021-22.

"This is essential to help level up the provision of social care services in rural areas, taking full account of their delivery cost in more sparsely-populated areas.

"This would also enable improved or more consistent engagement with and commissioning of ‘low-level’ support services for vulnerable, rural residents, which are typically delivered locally by voluntary and community sector organisations.

"In the meantime, additional government funding for rural councils to meet service needs and the costs associated with the pandemic is urgently needed if the worries expressed in this survey are to be countered."