Medical retraining needed for ageing generation
It’s no secret that New Zealand has an ageing population. Projections show that in the twenty years between 2016 and 2036 there will be a 77% increase of New Zealanders aged over 65, and 132.4% increase of New Zealanders aged over 80.
Such significant demographic shift is already starting to impact our infrastructure, economy, and health care system–and that impact is only going to get bigger. To survive with the values of our society intact we need to be active in respecting the dignity of our elders right through to the very end of life–even and especially when it comes at a cost. One area this must include is the capacity of our Hospice and palliative care services to support dying people well.
Such significant demographic shift is already starting to impact our infrastructure, economy, and health care system–and that impact is only going to get bigger.
The need for palliative medicine is going to rapidly increase, with a large older population we will see many more of the cancers and chronic illnesses that are much more common towards the end of life. This end of life medical care focuses on quality of life by relieving pain and suffering, whether physical, social, psychological, or spiritual.
One of the big gaps in our ability to provide this kind of quality care is that we’re currently not educating or training our medical staff so that every doctor and nurse feels equipped to walk alongside families and whānau right to the end of life. Medical practitioners I’ve spoken to have highlighted this gap, saying that every medical student will have just a matter of days training in palliative care in comparison to months of training in obstetrics learning how to deliver a baby. This is despite the fact that almost every doctor will work with dying patients during their career, while a comparatively tiny percentage will go on to actually deliver a baby.
We’re currently not educating or training our medical staff so that every doctor and nurse feels equipped to walk alongside families and whānau right to the end of life
As it stands, the medical system will rely on doctors and nurses who don’t specialise in palliative care. As palliative care experts explain, “the vast majority of people who die expected deaths will be cared for by health practitioners for whom managing dying is not their primary area of expertise and was often not part of their training.” Workforce service forecasts already tell us that “there are not enough doctors training to become palliative care medicine specialists.”
We need more palliative care specialists, but to meet the huge coming need we need palliative care to be a basic foundation of medical understanding across the profession. This will ensure that statements like “junior doctors still report that [palliative care] is the area in which they feel most unprepared and which causes them the greatest distress,” are no longer the norm. To change this, our universities and medical schools need to ensure that every graduating nurse or doctor feels confident in their ability to not only cure patients well, but to care for them and their whānau right through to the very end of life. Getting end of life care right is essential in an ageing population. It’s a practical way of respecting our elders, and it’s something each of us would hope will be available to us when our time comes.go back