Launch of the Health of Older People Strategy

  • Lianne Dalziel
Senior Citizens

As Minister for Senior Citizens I want to welcome the release of the Health of Older People Strategy and to join with Ruth in thanking and congratulating all the officials, NGOs, the reference group and the participants in the consultation process for delivering on the key actions promoted by the New Zealand Positive Ageing Strategy, under the health and ageing in place goals.

I want to pay particular tribute to Ruth Dyson, who has worked hard to ensure that this is a meaningful document, that holds government accountable for delivering on the integrated, continuum of care that older New Zealanders have long talked of, and until now have only begun to enjoy in a few parts of New Zealand.

I always recall having a conversation with a GP who told me of the frustration she felt at meeting relatives of patients in the street and finding out by chance that they had been admitted to and/or discharged from hospital. She told me how much better she could co-ordinate support for her patients if only she were ‘in the loop’, particularly at the admission and discharge stages. For older New Zealanders, particularly those who have never been near a hospital before, it would be an advantage if you could see your own GP while you were in hospital. Imagine if your GP was the one who organised your discharge or move to a ‘step-down’ facility so that you didn’t have to stay in a high-tech hospital, but didn’t have to go home straight away either.

The role of the family is also critical in this regard.

I have a personal driver in all this. As a relatively new MP I was approached by a constituent who believed his wife had died unnecessarily. I accompanied him to the hospital and we had a meeting where the administrator expressed sympathy for what had occurred, but there was not a ready acceptance of responsibility.

The bottom line is that an elderly woman was being discharged to the care of her elderly husband, when he didn’t think she was ready to be discharged. The truth is that if he wasn’t ready, then neither was she. What occurred is that he looked after her in the best way he knew how – kept her in bed – she was re-admitted to hospital within the week, and died of pneumonia. This was a preventable death, and it has made me determined to see the broadest involvement of health professionals, patient and family in the discharge planning process. This is one component of an integrated continuum of care. In this case the wife should have been transferred to the AT&R unit for a full assessment before being returned home. I am comforted by the fact that this would have been what would happen today in my home city of Christchurch, but I am not so sure about other centres.

The beauty of the Health of Older People Strategy is that it is genuinely patient-centred, and that it recognises the invaluable role that family plays. It ensures that health professionals and health service providers work together cooperatively to produce positive health outcomes.

It focuses on the importance of maintaining good health status during one’s life, and promotes health and well-being for older New Zealanders recognising that this goes beyond the mere absence of illness or disease.

It recognises the importance of injury prevention strategies, which Ruth and I take a particular interest in with our ACC portfolio responsibilities.

This document is truly a blueprint for the direction that we must take as a country. I have quoted Professor Ng the instigator of the New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing on several occasions now, but there is no harm in repeating those words:

"New Zealanders who are now 65 plus are more highly educated and healthier than their predecessors. Their capacity for productive work of all kinds (not necessarily for pay) is a national treasure and this is set to rise with longer life expectancies attainable by more and more New Zealanders.

In about 30 years from now, over 20 % of our population will be made up of this group of Third Agers. Their contribution to New Zealand society is and will continue to be immense. If they are ignored, undervalued, or otherwise excluded from society, New Zealand can hardly be competitive against other countries that have found a way of harnessing this immense resource."

If we are truly to ‘harness’ the contribution of our increasingly active retired population, then we owe it to them, to put in place the strategies that will support their continued participation in all aspects of society.

This strategy stands witness to that commitment.