Ita Buttrose shares personal experience at UOW Health Symposium

Future vision: UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Health and Communities) Professor Alison Jones and media veteran Ita Buttrose are advocates for a person-centred health and aged care system. Picture: Robert Peet
Future vision: UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Health and Communities) Professor Alison Jones and media veteran Ita Buttrose are advocates for a person-centred health and aged care system. Picture: Robert Peet

Australia's aged care system has failed the vulnerable people it's supposed to care for, says media icon Ita Buttrose.

The new chairwoman of the ABC, and former Australian of the Year, shared her personal experience of the system during her keynote address at the UOW Health Symposium on Wednesday.

The veteran journalist and author cared for her father Charles after he was diagnosed with vascular dementia; he died in 1999.

"I know something of the ups and downs of living with dementia both for the person and the carer," she said.

"There were times where my father was very depressed. I remember saying, 'Hi dad, how are you going?', and he said, 'Well if you must know, I'm feeling very depressed'.

"It's very hard to hear someone you love say that and realise you can't really help. He also had macular degeneration which means he lost his vision, and he had hearing loss.

"In his last year of life he was in and out of hospital many times and the nurses would say, 'Your father's very difficult, he never fills out his menu'. Well, you know he can't see, he can't read and he doesn't hear very well either."

The time has come to ... weed out the dodgy operators once and for all.

Ita Buttrose

Ms Buttrose praised the university for its vision for its Health and Wellbeing Precinct, which will combine innovative models of health and aged care with research and learning.

"The university hopes through the services it offers, it will take pressure off the Wollongong hospital, particularly in the emergency department," she said.

"There's only one stumbling block. Given Australia is an ageing population, much of it will depend on the outcome of the Royal Commission into aged care and the action that follows.

"So far, the stories we've heard about have only reinforced what people have known about and experienced for some time.

"Some stories have been appalling. There have been shocking examples of cruel and uncaring care. We've heard about the use of physical constraints to control patients with dementia, often used alongside physical abuse, anti-psychotic medication and inadequate food, resulting in malnutrition and dehydration."

Ms Buttrose said winning back the trust of older patients would not happen overnight.

"It's going to take time, and it's going to take a lot more than words and promises," she said.

"It will require strong leadership and positive action. It's going to take well-trained staff and a lot more of them too; there is a chronic shortage of properly trained staff in aged care.

"The time has come to ... weed out the dodgy operators once and for all."

Meeting of minds at health symposium

Consumer focus: Dr Anthony Brown says involving patients in the design of health care facilities and services leads to better health outcomes. Pictures: Robert Peet

Consumer focus: Dr Anthony Brown says involving patients in the design of health care facilities and services leads to better health outcomes. Pictures: Robert Peet

Flipping the traditional model of healthcare has always been the aim of the University of Wollongong's Health and Wellbeing Precinct.

An Australian first, the $500 million precinct under development at the innovation campus aims to provide patient-centred, multidisciplinary health facilities to improve health outcomes across the region.

On Wednesday, around 90 health experts and advocates converged on the Fairy Meadow campus for the 2019 Health Symposium to share their ideas on how to truly put patients first.

"We are very interested in patients' experience of care," UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Health and Communities) Professor Alison Jones said.

"And so we're aiming to flip the care model to be focused on the family and person, rather than the traditional model which looks at the system and how people fit within that system.

"This symposium brings many minds together to challenge assumptions and share new ideas and innovations in health practice."

Minds like Dr Anthony Brown, executive director of Health Consumers NSW - a charity that represents the interests of patients, carers and their families.

"People and their families and communities know what's important for them - but sometimes that knowledge and experience is missed out on when planning health services," he said.

"We bring health services and health consumers together to make sure patients and their families are involved in the design and delivery of care.

"The more we involve patients in the process, the more we can help with their healing."

Dr Brown said a good example of consumer engagement was the design of the cancer ward at Blacktown Hospital, which opened in 2016.

"Architects had consulted clinicians who felt that because patients could feel so terrible undergoing chemotherapy, then the ward should contain nice quiet rooms where they could have their privacy," he said.

"However when they included patients in the planning process they discovered that they felt that loneliness was one of the worst parts of their treatment.

"Rather than knowing that someone on the other side of the curtain or wall was going through the same thing, they wanted the opportunity to sit together and talk to each other.

"So the 'chemotherapy lounge' was designed with big, comfortable seats where people receive treatment together, and have conversations."

Dr Brown said the re-design changed patients' experience of the health service, and "there's good evidence that the better our experience of a service, the better our recovery".

"Often the solutions are found in community and with patients because they know what works for them," he added.

Prof Jones said the UOW had signed contracts with Lendlease for the first stage of the precinct, which will cover 7.5ha at the southern end of the campus.

The hub of the precinct will be a community health clinic focused on preventative health care.

The site will also include an aged care and senior living village - which will see aged care services link with researchers and students.

"We've had some early input from community groups and will now move into a broader community consultation period," Prof Jones said.

"What we're designing here is not something that exists anywhere else - it's truly innovative - so it's critical we have community guidance about what people want in terms of health facilities and services and assistive technology."

This story Aged care system is 'failing elderly', says Ita Buttrose first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.