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Increasing challenge to provide psychiatric care in old age

For immediate use

21 December 2015

Increasingly challenging to provide psychiatric care in old age

The specialist doctors providing psychiatric treatment for elderly people are struggling to keep up with demand as the population ages, says Ian Powell, Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).

“As a country we’re going to need to address this if we’re to continue providing good quality care for all New Zealanders.”

He was commenting on an article in the latest issue of the ASMS magazine, The Specialist, which looks at the challenges for the senior medical workforce of providing psychiatric care in old age. The Specialist is available online at

Dr Jane Casey, a psychogeriatrician at Auckland District Health Board and the current chair of the Faculty of Psychiatry of Old Age within the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, says more psychogeriatricians are needed.

New Zealand currently averages one psychogeriatrician per 17,000 people, compared with an accepted formula used elsewhere of one per 10,000. In addition, there are significant regional variations. Some psychogeriatricians work in large rural areas with a very diverse population and complex needs, or a higher than usual concentration of people aged 65 plus, or of people in aged residential care.

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She says that even though her DHB – Auckland – has the numbers it needs on paper, the specialists there are still not coping with the demand coming in the hospital doors.

“There are some good things happening with the service in New Zealand but they are happening in isolation and it’s very piecemeal. Overall, we are still significantly behind parts of the UK and Australian when it comes to psychogeriatric services.”

Ian Powell says the medical specialist workforce is increasingly under pressure to do more with less but this is not sustainable.

“We know New Zealand’s population is aging and we can’t leave it to the last minute to address the shortages of psychogeriatricians working in this area. It takes many years to train a hospital specialist and we need to be taking decisive action now.”


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