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Monday, 3 March 1997
Page: 1740

Mr MAREK(5.48 p.m.) —This grievance debate has come at a most opportune time for me, as in my electorate of Capricornia in central Queensland we have an ever-increasing problem with the lack of aged care facilities. We have a need, not a want. It has become a point of desperation for the public health facilities, community aided nursing care groups, families or carers and, of course, the aged people themselves.

It is less expensive for the taxpayers to care for the elderly in dedicated nursing homes than have them tie up beds in the hospital system, which is the present case. The situation has been like this for years, and I intend over the following months to provide sufficient evidence to prove my case for the need for nursing care. The statement by the bureaucracy that we have more than enough beds is misleading and nothing but a furphy.

To this end I wish to announce that I will be employing a research officer in my electorate of Capricornia. It should be noted, of course, that some of the cost of the submission will be at my own expense. With this in mind, although we may feel passionately about a particular issue, I firmly believe and reinforce that we are not in this parliament for our own benefit but to serve our employers, the people in our electorates—or, more to the point for me, the people of Capricornia. The research officer's responsibilities will be to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that Capricornia is lacking the bed numbers and facilities required to give a responsible standard of care. To ensure the result is not biased and has no holes in it, the officer will be an individual of sufficient ability to handle the task set and be 100 per cent au fait with the position which the electorate is currently in and will have the ability to get past the bureaucratic brick walls presently erected throughout this country. In other words, the officer and their completed submission will have the teeth to do the required job.

This untenable situation facing us today is only getting worse, on the ground I can prove that the more mature electors of Australia are moving north in their later years of life, particularly those not from Queensland. One of the major reasons for this, of course, is that in Queensland we do not have a death duty like in some other states. I believe that the care of the aged is paramount, because they have paid their dues to society and, fair's fair, it is time we gave them back so much of what they deserve, and that is our care in their later years of life. I must say it is not much to ask, particularly after what they have done for us. On top of this, it will create jobs for the people in Capricornia.

At this point it is imperative that I give some examples of what we are currently experiencing in Capricornia. For example, a situation was brought to my attention which highlights the need for additional bed spaces. A married couple aged 94 and 92 were living in a retirement village in Yeppoon. They have no family close to them. In fact, their closest relatives are nieces and nephews who live in mining towns in central Queensland. The wife became very ill and was transferred to St Andrew's Private Hospital in Rockhampton. She remained there for 30 days, only to be moved when the bed was required. Yeppoon Base Hospital initially did not have a bed for her as they were already beyond their normal capacity to care for the aged.

Because patients had nowhere to go at that particular time, all it did was cause overstraining because of bed capacity, and, like I said, they lacked nursing care. Eventually, a placement was found in a nursing home in Longreach. This was not suitable as it would mean that she would have to leave her husband for good. Because of their separation, and because of their age, they would not have the ability to visit each other.

To cut a long story short, they had to find somewhere to go to be together. In the end, a nursing home was found in Cairns—quite a long way from Yeppoon, I must remind everybody. But, at that point, they had nowhere else to go. So at least they have somewhere at this particular stage.

I would also like to bring to the attention of the House an article that appeared in the Central Queensland News on Wednesday, 12 February. It was the story of a man, Mr Clive Callaghan, who was torn from his family and friends to be placed in a home more than 400 kilometres away from those he loved and cherished so much, only to die three weeks later. He was a broken-hearted man, all because a bed was not available in his town of Emerald.

Increasing pressure being applied on nursing home providers indicates that the current level of licences is inadequate. Pressure is coming from three directions. Firstly, there is pressure from people who have been assessed as requiring nursing home care but who are forced to remain in the community. Secondly, there is the pressure from people in hospital wards requiring care but who cannot be placed. Thirdly, there are a growing number of residents in hostels who require nursing home care but who also cannot be placed.

In the year 2001 it is anticipated there will be some 429,000 Queenslanders aged 65 and over and 44,800 aged 85 and over. For Rockhampton and the central highlands, the aged care places based on the national service provision benchmark are considered comparatively high. I am told that this national benchmark is not an indication of need but, within available resources, sets the level of funding provided in any one locality.

On this basis, we are told that the provision of additional places in the region would not be considered a high priority. How can this be when we have waiting lists in the hospitals and nursing homes? At present, in Rockhampton and Central Queensland, nursing homes are full, with lengthy waiting lists. The position with hostels is little better. This is now impacting on community support services in a number of ways.

I commend the government on its reforms to aged care which will address the concerns in the future. However, we have a crisis now. Recently in Rockhampton the state government, with federal funding, announced the redevelopment of the Eventide Nursing Home to the tune of $9.5 million. The Eventide Nursing Home is a 130-bed facility. The new redevelopment is an 80-bed facility. Rockhampton has just lost 50 beds to the system. In other words, instead of reducing the problem, it has created problems.

I commit to the minister that, with the submission we will provide in the coming months, we can prove to the people in this parliament that aged care needs to be addressed in Capricornia.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hollis) —Order! I put the question:

That grievances be noted.

Question resolved in the affirmative.