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Past time to act on warnings about palliative care

Health officials have been warning the Government about a critical shortage of palliative care specialists for years, Labour’s Acting Deputy Leader and Health spokesperson Annette King says.

A stocktake carried out for the Ministry of Health shows New Zealand’s end of life care workforce is in crisis with 12 vacant specialist positions and 18 more likely over the next five years due to retirement.

“A 2011 Ministry forecast, outlining a range of issues that needed addressing, warned the Government of the very same problems. They included an aging workforce, recruitment and retention of palliative medicine specialists, a shortage of GPs with an interest in end of life care, a shortage of nurses with specialist palliative care skills, an increasing demand for palliative services and major gaps in service provisions.

“How ironic then, that the new Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman should today be trumpeting the Government’s ‘sound’ and ‘strategic approach to workforce planning.’

“Unsustainable funding means hospices are already struggling in the face of increased demand. People at the end of their lives deserve to be cared for the same way we care for those just starting out.

“Labour has repeatedly called for an update of the Palliative Care strategy, released over 10 years ago, but has been ignored by this Government.

“An increase in hospice funding during the election campaign after allowing it to stagnate for five years, merely put the funding back up to the percentage it was under Labour.

“With the number of people requiring palliative care expected to grow by another 25 per cent over the next 12 years and just over double that by 2061 there will be some insurmountable problems down the track unless the Government starts making changes now.”