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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 913


Senator JESSOP(5.48) —When the report of the Select Committee on Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes was last considered on 27 February I had a few moments at my disposal at the end of the debate to highlight my interest in nursing homes and the services they provide throughout Australia. This report highlights a growing need in the community. Recommendation 2 (b) in chapter 1 states:

That a one third increase of current (30 June 1984) nursing home beds by 30 June 1996 be adopted as a maximum overall ceiling increase of nursing home beds during that period.

It is important that we pay attention to that recommendation because of the growth in our community of the numbers of older citizens. I am attracted also to the part of the report which gives some demographic information and projected age population statistics. Paragraph 1.29 on page 15 of the report states:

. . . between 1947 and 1982 the proportion of the Australian population aged 65 years and over rose from 8 per cent to 9.8 per cent.

By the end of the century the projected aged population is expected to be about 11.9 per cent rising to approximately 15.8 per cent by the year 2021.

In Australia today different types of nursing homes provide care for the aged in our community. The church organisations, which are non-profit making, and some government institutions provide some services in this area. The private nursing homes and private hospitals are an integral part of the provision of this type of care and should be encouraged.

Last year I wrote a series of letters to Dr Blewett, the Minister for Health, and also to Senator Grimes in his capacity then as Minister for Social Security, demonstrating my concern that some people residing in nursing homes do not require intensive or even medium nursing care. These people could probably be accommodated in other types of accommodation. When I raised the matter in the Senate in the adjournment debate there was a threat that 11 rest homes in Adelaide would close. These rest homes provide boarding-house type accommodation with limited non-qualified specialist attention. The management and staff of those organisations ensure that the people who live there take the medication prescribed by their doctors and help them with their shopping needs, hairdressing facilities and so on. It is a relatively non-medical role; nevertheless, it is quite significant. There was a threat that these 11 rest homes would close, which would have meant that about 300 of their residents would have been compelled to go to public hospitals or other nursing homes, if possible. The problem is that in that sort of circumstance accommodation in nursing homes is just not available.

I suggested that perhaps 20 per cent of the patients who are presently accommodated in nursing homes do not require nursing care and they could be accommodated in another facility such as a rest home. If the Government has regard to the request by the rest homes in South Australia, and, no doubt, in other parts of Australia, that it should provide a subsidy of up to $4 a day, certainly it will relieve the situation. Of course, the Government will have to have regard to the standards of that accommodation, if it is the will of the Government to do that. I estimated that 20 per cent of people in nursing homes at the moment could be accommodated elsewhere. Senator Grimes suggested that a more accurate number would be 25 to 30 per cent in some States of Australia. That problem needs to be dealt with. Although we like to think that old people can be looked after in their own homes, when one partner of a married couple dies it is not always possible for the other to remain in his or her own home and accommodation is sought elsewhere.

In view of the points made in the report, I reiterate what I have said about rest homes and suggest that something needs to be done about the problem. I raised the matter with Senator Grimes on 10 September 1984. In his letter to me-I am not certain of the date-he said:

Careful consideration needs to be given to both cost and policy implications of extending subsidies to organisations operating hostels for profit. The study of private hostels being undertaken by my Department--

to which he referred in another letter in January--

will assist in consideration of this issue.

If a study has been undertaken by his Department, it is important that the Government issue a report to the Senate as soon as possible giving the information about the problem and the way in which the Government proposes to tackle it. We have to look very carefully at this problem and find alternative satisfactory accommodation for patients occupying beds in nursing homes who could be otherwise accommodated in the rest homes, as I have suggested.

A lot of people who go into rest homes seem to be physically and mentally fit. I mentioned senile dementia and how slowly but insidiously this occurs. A patient who is admitted to a rest home may seem to be mentally and physically normal, but in a very short time might suffer from senile dementia, become incontinent and require nursing care. It is an important subject and I ask the Government to respond with some information on the inquiry that has been made into this subject as soon as possible.