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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4042

Senator BOLKUS(6.10 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I have a concern with the nursing homes standards review panels reports and I would like to take the opportunity to speak on these reports. My concern is that the area of nursing homes has to be one that will continue to be of critical concern to governments and policy makers in this country. We are an ageing population and, over the years, there has been more and more demand for nursing home accommodation by our older citizens. That demand comes from all aspects of our community. One particular area that I have had close contact with for a long time has been the area of the demands from the part of the community that does not speak English.

When people of non-English speaking backgrounds get old, they quite often find themselves in isolation in a nursing home environment because of the lack of capacity to communicate in a language that they understand. This has a number of effects. It has the effect of them getting inappropriate food, their medical needs quite often do not get understood and their day-to-day concerns in terms of contact with family and so on are often ignored. I think it is an area which not only has been of concern over recent years but also will be one of increasing concern as the Australian population becomes older.

We have to take aged care accommodation in this country seriously for all Australians and we have to take it seriously for those who have migrated here, have spent some 50, 60, 70 years of their lives here but, at the end of the day, have found themselves in need of appropriate and sensitive nursing home accommodation. I think it is fair to say that governments and particularly the administration of nursing home accommodation have not really catered for the needs and peculiar circumstances of these aged people.

The Nursing Home Standards Review Panel is one mechanism whereby standards in nursing homes can be reviewed, monitored and assessed. But quite often what happens in situations involving those of non-English speaking backgrounds is that their concerns and their complaints are not heard through the system and in the system. They are not heard because more often than not silence on their part, silence because of language problems, is taken as meaning compliance and satisfaction with the process. There could be nothing further from the truth.

In the absence of mechanisms which in fact elicit the views of those people, we can never be satisfied as policy makers in this place that the needs of old people of non-English speaking backgrounds are catered for. They cannot complain and quite often the standards re views do not tap into their concerns. What I think needs to happen is for there to be a new approach to the way that we review the services for those old people of non-English speaking backgrounds.

The system at the moment in some respects can be called goofy, as it does not cater for their needs, or supercilious in terms of the way it approaches them. But there needs to be a system in place which can actually monitor those people's needs and monitor their diffi culties by ensuring that they are contacted in languages that they understand.

They are forgotten people. They are isolated. They are isolated because of age, they are isolated because of language, and they are isolated because the system has not as yet found a way of tapping into their particular plights and problems. Quite often this can be serious. It can lead to death, and it can lead to more serious and aggravated injury. The point I want to make this evening is that, from the routine to the emergency situation, I do not think that these people are being catered for.