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Parliament to launch inquiry into aged care to comply with National-New Zealand coalition deal

Parliament’s health select committee will launch an inquiry into aged care provision focusing on how it helps people with early-onset illnesses such as dementia.

It will likely complement Health New Zealand’s current review of aged care funding and service models, which seeks to establish a nationally consistent approach to providing care in the community and relieve pressure on hospitals.

The Aged Care Association of New Zealand welcomes Parliament’s inquiry as the country faces an older, longer-lived population set to peak over the next three decades.

The inquiry was an element of the coalition agreement between National and New Zealand First.

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Health select committee chair and National MP Sam Uffindell said the scope of the review would include the sector’s “current and future ability to support those experiencing early-onset neurological disorders, such as dementia, and ensure asset thresholds suitable for sustainable service”.

The terms of reference for the investigation had not yet been set.

Aged Care Association chief executive and former New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin supported any attempt to address inequalities in aged care.

“From our perspective, we’re very glad to have some kind of attention to what is a pretty serious situation for seniors in this country right now.

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“Our hope would be that the inquiry will once again inform Parliament about what the current shortcomings and future needs of this particularly vulnerable demographic of New Zealanders are.”

Martin said the baby boomer “wave” of seniors was predicted to peak in 2048. However, how the country would address an older senior population living longer was unresolved.

“Multiple governments have left this situation behind and I don’t think there is any further left.”

Aged Care Association chief executive Tracey Martin welcomes Parliament's review.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
Aged Care Association chief executive Tracey Martin welcomes Parliament’s review. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Around 900,000 New Zealanders were aged 65 or over. Around 35,000 were in an aged care facility, while around 80,000 were receiving home support services.

Around 70,000 Kiwis were living with dementia, but that number is expected to triple by 2050.

In July last year, Health NZ began its review and in its first phase found that aged care and community support services were underfunded, that funding models were not fit for purpose, that there were ethnic inequalities within the industry, that workforce pressures were significant and that there were problems with services. They were worse in rural areas.

The second phase involved workshops and focus groups with providers and advocacy organizations to help inform better, more efficient care pathways that would not overwhelm the hospital system.

Health NZ aging wells director Andy Inder, who was leading the review, said phase two was expected to be completed in August and a business case would be presented to Health NZ’s board in September.

However, Inder said changes had been made to the way high-risk people were identified, which meant it was becoming easier to match sustainable services with people so they could live in their community instead. to receive more care in the hospital.

Casey Costello is the Minister for Seniors.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
Casey Costello is the Minister for Seniors. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Martin said he had some concerns about Health NZ’s review, namely the focus on keeping older people out of hospital “at all costs”.

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“That doesn’t really mean putting the person at the center of what they need.”

She acknowledged that the review would identify how to break down silos so that care can be delivered more consistently.

Martin was due to meet Seniors Minister Casey Costello next week and would discuss how the sector was funded, using Australia’s recent change to the assets and means test of care delivery as an example of where New Zeeland could look for guidance.

Adam Pearse is a political reporter with the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based in Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.

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