A GROUP which supports more than 15,000 voluntary and community groups has issued a stark warning to politicians over a decline in access to health and social care in rural areas.

A report by The Rural Voluntary and Community Sector Policy Group (VCS) has found the number of older people in rural areas of Yorkshire, such as the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, is set to double by 2028, putting huge pressure on existing services, many of which are already experiencing funding cuts.

The study found twice as many households in rural areas of Yorkshire than elsewhere in the country do not have a local GP, with 3.1 per cent living more than 6km from a GP, compared to 1.6 per cent nationally.

In addition, 16.8 per cent of those living in rural areas within Yorkshire said they had a limiting long- term illness, of which 33,135 are working age adults who are permanently sick or disabled.

A VCS spokesman said: "The work of the voluntary and community sector helps create wellbeing and this prevents health problems.

"Commissioners of health and social care services need to tailor services to meet the particular needs of people in rural areas, recognising that this may require additional resources.

"Investing in the voluntary and community sector will prevent long-term and serious health problems arising and so will save money."

Rural services campaigners in North Yorkshire said the report highlighted that action was urgently needed.

Tanja Weston, of Rural Action Yorkshire , said commissioners of health and social care services must take into account the higher costs relating to access so that the needs of rural end users are met-and not rely solely on the service cost.

Upper Dales councillor John Blackie said: "The solutions are less obvious and need the very resources that are now beyond reach in the era of austerity, which is further cutting savagely to the bone the few remaining sparse services in these areas.

"Community transport with volunteer drivers like The Little White Bus in the Upper Dales can offer invaluable assistance, and it will be essential to provide GP practices with a rural compensation payment so that they can continue to provide their services for people from within their local community, rather than remotely many miles away."

Councillor Clare Wood, chairman of North Yorkshire health and wellbeing board, said she was optimistic the initiatives the board had launched, such as closer working between health and social services providers, would improve access to services to residents of rural areas.

She said: "Of course access to services is a concern and at the moment local government is not in the best position in terms of funding.

"We are determined to make improvements and this is our top priority."