Harsh reality of South’s psychogeriatric services

The aged care sector is short 1200 nurses. Photo: NZ Herald
Photo: NZ Herald
There are 60 full-time-equivalent aged-care psychiatrists in New Zealand — but the South has less than two, painting a grim future for those in need.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists records 60 full-time-equivalent (FTE) aged-care specialists working throughout the country — and just one for Otago.

Subcommittee for psychiatry of old age chairwoman Bronwyn Copeland said most of the country was facing a "horrendous" situation unless more priority was given to the service.

"[The South is] the lowest in terms of psychiatrist time per 10,000 elderly, but it’s even worse now."

This was due to the resignation of another psychiatrist in Dunedin, leaving Otago with just two part-time psychogeriatricians, or a total of one FTE, she said.

Meanwhile, the aged care commissioner has called for urgent attention to the situation in Southland.

There is just one locum working three days every two weeks, the Otago Daily Times reported last week.

Patients were also sometimes separated from their family by long distances when care was not available nearby, an "incredibly sad" situation that occurred in more rural areas such as the South.

However, most of the country was also struggling to provide adequate psychogeriatric care, although Christchurch was an exception.

A lack of beds dedicated to specialist care was creating problems, both nationally and in the South.

Inpatient beds were needed, in addition to the psychogeriatric beds in community rest-homes where those needing long-term care were looked after.

"Inpatient beds are beds in the hospital for patients with psychiatric issues, whether it’s dementia or psychosis or severe depression."

In the South there were 1.9 inpatient beds per 10,000 people aged over 65.

While this was above the national mean of 1.6, it was still insufficient.

"The ideal number should be anything between 3-6 per 10,000 elderly, and only two places in the whole country are meeting the minimum standards," Ms Copeland said.

This meant that patients might not not be treated adequately and could end up being sent to a community facility, or having a bed in an area that did not suit their needs.

"Southern’s got a difficult situation, but a lot of areas have similar issues," Ms Copeland said.

She did not believe most people knew how bad the situation was, and it was set to get worse unless policy changes were made and more resources provided.

"It’s going to be horrendous unless something changes."

The elderly had been forgotten by the health system for years, and it was time they were remembered.

If anything, they needed more resources than the younger population because they tended to be more frail and more vulnerable to the side effects of medication.

"Mental health problems that are common in the community are just as common in the elderly, and they need the treatment that is available to other cohorts."

Dementia was also a huge factor in psychogeriatric services.

"We’re an ageing society and with age increasing age increases the prevalence of dementia, and so therefore we need to future proof our health system," she said.

Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand did not provide a response to the ODT yesterday.