Pensioners needing to access aged-care facilities are waiting longer for a place in Hawke's Bay than anywhere else in New Zealand, new research reveals.
A new report compiled by lobby group the New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) showed elderly people in Hawke's Bay had to wait an average of 9.7 months after first hitting a high MAPLe (method of assigning priority level) score (4+) in a home-care assessment before they were admitted to an aged-care facility.
That was more than seven-and-a-half months longer than people in the Waitemata DHB area, which was the best-placed DHB, and more than double the national average.
"Over half of the country's DHBs are delaying access to rest homes for older people who need it, and this can have serious consequences for their health," NZACA chief executive Simon Wallace said.
The report raised "serious concerns" about the ability of many elderly people to access care when they needed it.
"While the analysis clearly shows the significant benefits of aged residential care for an older person's health and well-being, it also shows that many elderly people are missing out on improved or stable health because of where they live."
"Postcode healthcare is simply not acceptable in New Zealand. Our analysis supports the Government's finding in its inquiry into the aged-care sector last year about disparities in care across the regions."
"If an older person lives in the Hawke's Bay DHB region, for example, and is at the point that they are needing aged residential care, they will wait on average seven months longer to access that care, than someone who lives in neighbouring MidCentral DHB.
"The inconsistent approach taken by too many DHBs in assessing the health needs of elderly people means they miss out on those benefits."
The report also pointed out "significant variations" across the DHBs as to when people
were admitted to aged residential care within 12 months of a home care assessment, which puts them at high risk of needing care.
Nationally, 41.2 per cent people of people were admitted to aged residential care during 2015/2016 within 12 months. However, only 32.1 per cent of people in Hawke's Bay were admitted within that timeframe.
"We are keen to work with the Government to progress their policy that the interRAI assessment tools are applied in a consistent way across all the DHBs so that our elderly people can be treated equally", Mr Wallace said.
Statistics New Zealand figures show that in 2013 about 26,200 people aged 65 or over lived in Hawke's Bay. However, Stats NZ estimates that to rise to 30,900 over the coming year - and then by a further 5000 by 2023.
That would bring the region's pensioner population to 35,800.
"With a rapidly ageing population, the demand for rest-home care will only increase, and we must have a policy and funding framework that enables our elderly people to continue to access quality care when they need it - both now and for the future," Mr Wallace said.
Hawke's Bay District Health has been approached for comment.