Taranaki gets 'silver tsunami' warning

Taranaki's aged-care workers, GPs, hospital medics and families should be better prepared, educated and supported to care for the impending "silver tsunami", says a palliative care steering group.

The group was set up last year by the Taranaki District Health Board to oversee the development of a new palliative care strategy, the board's older people and cancer services portfolio manager, Channa Perry, said.

Caring for the elderly was everybody's business, she said.

The main reason for the new plan - based on the New Zealand Palliative Care Strategy - was to meet the increasing demand on healthcare services by the growing numbers of elderly people, dubbed the "silver tsunami", Ms Perry said.

"It will be a challenge across all levels of healthcare," she said.

With improved healthcare, people were living longer but were also often living with a wide range of complex health problems, Ms Perry said.

The group included representatives of Hospice Taranaki, hospital services, aged residential care, primary care and Maori health. The outcome was a Palliative Care Plan for Taranaki which focuses on the need to upskill the community-based health sector involved in the care of the elderly.

The largest providers were residential aged-care rest homes, of which there were 29 in the region, Ms Perry said.

And Hospice Taranaki, which was the region's lead palliative carer in the region, would run the education programme, she said.

In the meantime, Hospice Taranaki was itself dealing with growing numbers of the elderly, making it even more necessary to upskill some of the community-based providers to play a greater role in palliative care, she said.

Hospice Taranaki general manager Kevin Nielsen said yesterday the hospice had been offering training in the aged-care sector for many years.

"Certainly we are very well positioned to make that more widely available," he said.

And since extensions were completed in March the hospice now had an additional facility that could accommodate more people.

The challenge was for rest-home operators, who often said they could not afford extra training, to make their staff available.

"Some [rest homes] are really good, others say their staff have to do it in their own time," Mr Nielsen said.

Ms Perry said many people wanted to die at home and the carers supporting their loved one at home would also benefit from training and support.

There was a joint approach being advanced between the hospice and the hospital in caring for the dying. "We are looking at developing a formal contract between the hospital clinical team and hospice to strengthen the partnership."

■ Taranaki District Health Board demographic data shows that the region's over-65 and over 85 populations are expected to have lower growth rates than the other Midland DHBs, but Taranaki still has one of the highest proportion of over-65s and 85s, and this proportion was expected to increase over time.

At the same time, the population in Taranaki is expected to remain relatively static over the next 14 years.

Taranaki Daily News