Wednesday 18 April 2007



[6.48 p.m.]

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, it is time that governments and communities got their act together on the increasing number of older people needing special care and facilities.

At a time when everyone knows full well the statistics and predictions of an increasing proportion of older people in our community, we have crisis after crisis affecting the way that they are cared for. We have hundreds of people in their seventies, eighties and nineties who are facing eviction from the Village Life Aged Care facilities, including the one at Newstead in Launceston. These are people on the basic pension with little or no other financial means.

We have an inquiry into five recent deaths in a Victorian facility, apparently due to gastroenteritis. We have the future of Launceston's Philip Oakden House palliative care hospice apparently threatened. This hospice is highly important to the Kings Meadows and the wider Launceston community. It has six beds, three for privately funded patients and three for public patients, with infrastructure to support an additional four beds. There is a highly qualified medical director and a nursing manager specialised in palliative care, palliative care nurses and carefully selected volunteers.

Over the years a group known as Friends of Philip Oakden House has raised an estimated $200 000 for the hospice. More importantly, Mr President, Philip Oakden House is the only specifically constructed hospice in Tasmania. It is able to provide the expert care and support to terminally ill patients which cannot be provided in hospitals.

Mr Jim Anderson of Launceston who was one of a group of three who oversaw the construction and commissioning of the hospice said the State Government seems committed to supporting palliative care in the north but does not appear committed to supporting Philip Oakden House. The response by the Leader to a question from the member for Mersey today tends to support this view. When asked about future State assistance for the three State beds at the Philip Oakden hospice part of the response was, and I will quote:
'The department is holding discussions with OneCare Limited in relation to renewing the service agreement. An offer has been made to OneCare Limited for the department to continue to purchase three palliative care beds. The level of funding is based on the amount considered appropriate nationally for delivering 24-hour quality in-patient care to palliative care patients with less complex palliative care needs. The Government is committed to providing quality in-patient palliative care services at the best value for the taxpayer dollar.'

That is the Leader's response. To me it does not appear to rule out Mr Anderson's belief that the Department of Health and Human Services plans to place palliative care beds in hospitals because that would be cheaper than supporting the three beds at Philip Oakden House. But the best value for the taxpayer dollar may not be the best value for a dying person and their relatives. Mr Anderson points out that the hospital nurses are not qualified palliative care nurses and that hospital routines cannot be put aside to allow for individual attention. Hospitals cannot necessarily allow relatives to be with their dying relative or to be able to sleep near them. I quote Mr Anderson:
'It is beyond any argument that the quality of care and support in the district hospitals could never match the knowledge or expertise of the Hospice Medical Director and staff or give the caring physical and emotional support to relatives.'

That is Mr Anderson, a former director of Philip Oakden House. I will quote again. He says:
'The Government is prepared to spend millions of dollars on Football, Horse Racing and Pulp Mill publicity but is not prepared to properly fund six beds at the Hospice.' - to allow people to die with dignity and specialised care.

Another founder of Philip Oakden House, Lach Hardy-Wilson, in calling for funds to build Philip Oakden House in the late 1980s, said:
'Hospice care for the dying is well accepted in the western world. It is time for Tasmania to catch up with this very rewarding field of service to the community.'

He went on:
'... it is stressed that dying is a natural stage of life, that not only is care and support for the patient needed, but that the same requirements for the relatives need to be provided.'
More than 6 000 people have signed a petition calling for the palliative care services at Philip Oakden House to continue. Let us hope that the State Government will take note as it considers funding for the hospice after the existing funding agreement expires in June. Funding the amount considered appropriate nationally for delivering 24-hour quality in-patient care to palliative care patients with less complex palliative care needs may not provide the best outcome for Tasmanians who are dying. A community which cannot show compassion and care for its members with terminal illness is a community lacking compassion. That is not a real community.

The Council adjourned at 6.54 p.m.