New Zealand’s ageing population means that the crisis across aged care facilities could become worse in the future.
“This is going to be a huge, huge problem,” NZ Herald investigative journalist Nicholas Jones tells The Front Page podcast.
“Our over-65 population is predicted to double by the 2050s to around 1.4 million. And yet, recently, the number of aged care facilities and beds has dropped because we can’t find the staff. People have shut down facilities and shut down beds.”
These problems are particularly pronounced when it comes to those who need specialised care.
“If you look at things like dementia wards, which are quite a specialised area, you have the big aged care companies slowing down or stopping the building of those facilities because they just don’t see the funding as adequate. I think we’re in for potentially a huge, huge problem in the future.”
Jones has, over the last year, investigated the state of aged care facilities across the country, and has already seen some worrying signs of the strain the sector is under. And while there are some promising signs of progress, Jones notes that staffing levels are still well behind where they should be.
“When I did my initial reporting, the sector was short 1,200 nurses out of a workforce of around 5,000. That’s reduced slightly to around 1000 now.”
Jones says that in the past aged-care nurses weren’t paid as much as their counterparts at hospitals, contributing significantly to the dearth of staff. The Government has, however, made recent changes to rectify this issue.
“They brought in pay equity, which was a very big change. They also moved to give a residency pathway to migrants, which was also a major change. And they’ve set up the country’s first aged care commissioner, which is basically a watchdog.”
So will these changes make a difference? Is the funding enough to keep the aged-care facilities running? And what are the long-term plans to ensure that New Zealand’s ageing population has the care it needs to keep running?
Listen to the full episode of The Front Page podcast to hear Jones explain why growing old in New Zealand could become a scary prospect.
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.