Retirement Life
20 March 2024

Report calls for urgent action to improve aged care


Aged Care Commissioner Carolyn Cooper is calling for coordinated action to meet the ongoing health and disability needs of older Kiwis.


Her new report: Amplifying the voices of older people across Aotearoa New Zealand draws on the experiences and insights of seniors, their families, caregivers, and service providers and offers 20 recommendations aimed at elevating the standard of care.


"Following conversations with older people and their whānau, I have significant concerns about access to, and coordination of, health and disability services," Ms Cooper said.


Remain in the community for longer

She says older people are enormously valuable in our communities. "With quality, accessible health and disability care they can maintain their independence and dignity and contribute to their communities for longer."


Currently, many seniors face barriers in accessing necessary home, community support, and residential care. The report underscores the critical need for a sustainable workforce dedicated to elder care, emphasizing the importance of specialist training to cater to a diverse ageing population.


The lack of integration in health and disability services creates significant challenges, such as unnecessary hospital admissions or older people staying in hospital longer than they need to because they lack alternatives.


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"Not only does this cause enormous stress for older people and their whānau, it places additional pressure on the health system which affects emergency and planned care," she says.


The urgency of an ageing population

In around a decade, older people will comprise 20% of the population, which means more New Zealanders living with chronic conditions and high health needs. The need for continuity of care that adapts to the evolving needs of our older people is more pressing than ever. These services, whether at home, through primary and community care, or within residential or respite facilities, must be readily available to those in need.


"We need a clearly coordinated strategy and action plan to meet these needs. Health reforms need to consider the requirements of older people and recognise and value primary and community care and aged residential care as critical partners in delivering a continuum of care," says Ms Cooper.


Five key recommendations from the report

A unified approach is crucial: To serve the ageing population effectively, especially those with chronic conditions, a unified strategy across the various touchpoints is essential. This includes improving hospital discharge processes to ensure smooth, well-coordinated transitions to home or aged-care facilities.


A sustainable, specialised workforce: Health NZ Te Whatu Ora’s focus should be on cultivating a sustainable aged-care workforce, with regular training and development for primary and community care providers on the health and wellbeing of older people. Shortages of care and support workers should be tracked so gaps in service for those reliant on this support can be quickly identified.


Addressing psychogeriatric care bed shortages: The shortage of psychogeriatric care beds in New Zealand is alarming and must be addressed urgently. This includes a thorough analysis of service gaps and ensuring geographically equitable access to both acute and long-term psychogeriatric care.


Elevating primary and community care: Older people value enduring relationships and the convenience of having a single point of contact for primary care, whether a GP or another dedicated healthcare worker. Primary and community care, like GP clinics, are critical components of healthcare. Comprehensive community care teams could significantly reduce hospital admissions and improve the continuity of care.


Focus on prevention: Investment in things like increased hearing-aid subsidies and community-driven social connection programmes can help address loneliness and prevent dementia among older people.


If you’re interested in reading the report and its 20 recommendations in full, you can access it here.


The Commissioner says she will advocate for the changes in the health and disability services identified in her report and monitor actions taken in response to the recommendations by continuing to connect with older people, their families and the providers who care for them.


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Written by:

Vanessa Glennie

Vanessa is Head of Communications at Lifetime Retirement Income. She’s an experienced investment writer, having spent more than a decade writing about financial markets in the global fund management industry.

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