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Tuesday, 9 September 1958
Page: 958

Mr PETERS (Scullin) .- The average elderly Australian is very reluctant to enter an institution for the aged, whether it be controlled by a government or by a charitable or church organization. Elderly people desire to be as independent as possible. However, a time arrives in the lives of some elderly people without relations, or with relations who either will not or cannot care for them, when they have to enter such an institution because the condition of their health is such that they need the kind of care and supervision that those who control such institutions are able to give. If the lives of such elderly people are to be prolonged they must have access to institutions. This is particularly desirable in the case of aged people who are living alone, and it is often desirable in the case of aged couples.

To-day, there are more aged people on the waiting lists of institutions in every capital city than ever before in history. Many of them simply cannot get into institutions and have to remain unattended and uncared for - left to die, in effect - in the accommodation in which they live now. Their lives are shortened considerably because of lack of attention. One of the reasons for these long waiting lists is that the accommodation provided by institutions for the aged has not increased in proportion to the increase of population. There has never been enough accommodation for the aged, but the lack has become intensified because of the increase of population and the invention or discovery of lifeprolonging drugs. The result of the use of such drugs is that aged people already in institutions live, on the average, two, three or four years longer than was the case previously. In days gone by an aged person who developed pneumonia died very soon and the place occupied in an institution by that person became available for some other aged person. To-day, modern drugs can cure such diseases as pneumonia within a few days, and aged people who previously would have died continue to occupy accommodation in institutions for much longer than would otherwise be the case.

The Government should do something about arranging for an increase of accommodation in institutions for the aged in order to enable people now on waiting lists to be admitted to them. It should give a high priority to undertakings for increasing the accommodation in homes for the aged, but it would, of course, take a considerable amount of time to provide more accommodation. The Department of Health, which to-day is under the control of one of the outstanding humanitarians of his age, and the Department of Social Services, which is under the control of a rather thrifty gentleman, could co-operate in the provision of a kind of nurse-housekeeper visiting service for people awaiting admission to institutions because they cannot care for themselves.

Whatever the Government does about the provision of accommodation for the aged, it will not be able to extend the existing accommodation rapidly enough, and every year that passes makes the plight of the aged more desperate. Because of this, I suggest that the Commonwealth Department of Social Services and the Commonwealth Department of Health acting, if they liked, through State governments or municipal councils, could establish a housekeepernurse visiting service. That is, in certain regions, the departments could employ nurses, or persons with some rudimentary medical and housekeeping qualifications, whose job it would be to visit these people periodically, to give them some attention, and to do for them some jobs which they are unable to do for themselves, until such time as they can secure the admittance to the institutions for which they have applied.

That would not cost the Government any very vast sum, but it would alleviate a considerable amount of human suffering and prolong the lives of quite a number of our aged persons. It does not matter how old we become, we still want to hang on, I presume, for a few more years or a few more months. Everybody believes, like Bernard Shaw, that it his duty to live as long as he possibly can. I consider that it is the Government's duty to enable all people to live as long as they possibly can. It has been well said that the measure of the civilization of any nation is the attention that it gives to its very old and to its very young. If that is so, then the civilization of Australia is not very high. If the Minister for Health and his confrere, the Minister for Social Services, adopt my suggestion, they can do something to make people realize that Australia is Christian, civilized, and humane. I suggest that, while every effort should be made to increase accommodation for the very old who are unable to take care of themselves continuously, in the meantime there should be established, with Commonwealth aid, a kind of housekeeper-nurse visiting service to relieve the elderly in this community.

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