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Tony Ryall - Speech At Waipuna Hospice

Tony Ryall MP
National Party Health Spokesman

17 December 2006

Notes of address to opening of Waipuna Hospice refurbishment

Saturday, 16 December 2006

Fifty years ago, New Zealand built numerous schools, hospitals, and houses to meet a new generation we now know as “the baby boomers”.

As this generation enters retirement, New Zealand faces a new, yet similar, challenge: we do not have the facilities or resources to care for these ageing people, particularly when they are sick or dying.

Health policy-makers have not begun preparing for the extent of care and support that our ageing population will need. Most New Zealanders have never thought about the likelihood of having to provide personal care for loved ones, and then needing it for themselves.

But not only is the Labour Government failing to make plans for this … neither are most individuals. The greatest challenge ahead will be answering the need for hands-on, close personal care for older New Zealanders.

As you know, unpaid family members have always been the backbone of long-term care for most New Zealanders. But it is not easy for these family members. Depending on their personal situation and health, these family care-givers do the tasks of daily life, and monitor symptoms and medication.

They also act as advocates and co-ordinators. Most importantly, they are the rock of emotional support. They care for their relative out of loyalty and love. However, as it has been said “Just because family care-giving is unpaid does not mean it is costless”.

The family members caring for relatives will tell you that while they might be appreciated within the wider family, they are often forgotten… friends and neighbours drift away. The financial burden can be long and hard. The isolation can be heart-breaking.

But many such family members tell me that with good support and respite; care-giving can be a gratifying and fulfilling experience.

And that’s where hospice makes the difference.

Hospice is an enduring support not only for people with terminal illnesses, but also for their families. The caring, listening and love of hospice, the opportunity for respite, are important supports for those care-giving and will be even more important as the number of patients and family members needing support grows… as does the length of time that we will have to care for our older family members.

In the future, New Zealanders may well spend as long care-giving for ageing family members as they do in caring for their children.

Each year, around 8,000 terminally ill patients and their families rely on the invaluable end-of-life care provided by the 37 hospice services located around New Zealand.

Some communities have a comprehensive service including inpatient beds, at-home nursing, bereavement counselling. Others have elements of service, such as equipment loan, and some communities still have no identifiable service at all.

Many people don’t know about hospice or the full range of services and care they provide.

People don’t know that most hospice care is provided at home, or that there is no charge.

Those that do know would be shocked that only half of hospice costs are funded by taxpayers through central government.

Individuals and groups in the public and private sectors are working together to strengthen, promote and expand hospice.

Indeed, today’s $3 million expanded and refurbished facility stands testament to the tremendous effort of the Waipuna Hospice Foundation and its benefactors.

Here at Waipuna, the commitment of the team of health professionals – doctors, nurses, counsellors, social workers – is supported by a much bigger team of volunteers.

Caring for a terminally ill patient and supporting their family members can be emotionally painful, physically exhausting, and hugely satisfying.

I honour the professionals and volunteers who dedicate their lives to aiding the terminally ill and their families through hospices.

After eight years as a hospice volunteer in the Eastern Bay, my mother tells me that she has long and enduring friendships with the people she trained and worked with over those years.

In thinking about the future of hospice care in New Zealand, one should consider the initiatives underway to improve services for people with long-term medical conditions like heart and lung disease.

Increasingly, primary health GP and nurse teams are focusing on intensive support for these people. Many cancer patients live with multiple serious conditions, so controlling their cancer symptoms forms part of a complex health picture.

Can the dedicated teams treating these people for other conditions make a useful contribution to cancer care alongside hospice services? Can we co-ordinate all the services terminally-ill people receive to avoid duplication and make our resources more effective?

Five decades ago our country invested in schools and hospitals to meet the needs of that new generation.

Today, we must start preparing the services that will provide choice and quality care for that generation as its members grow old and die.

With this facility, we have made a start in the Western Bay. The hospice movement is the forgotten sector of the health system. It lacks funding and due attention. That must change.

Ends

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