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Nurses slam ‘callous’ NT health minister

Nurses have angrily rejected comments from the NT health minister, after he argued that valuable research dollars were being wasted on extending the lives of ageing terminal patients at the expense of furthering treatments for children’s health.

In an interview with the ABC last week, NT Health Minister John Elferink was quoted as saying: “The fact is we’ve pretty much reached the limit of how old we can grow as a species … yet we pour huge effort and resources into the last year of a person’s life. If we are doing that, we are doing that at the expense of some other point in the medical system.”

While apparently acknowledging that making such comments during seniors month might be considered controversial, Elferink went on to say that with treatments for the NT’s terminally ill patients alone costing about $1 million annually, such an amount “could probably touch hundreds of kids”.

“I suspect if you spoke to somebody who … for argument’s sake, had end-stage renal failure and said, ‘We can continue treatment but by discontinuing treatment your grandchildren would have a better opportunity’, many of those old people would say, ‘Yeah, I accept that’,” Elferink was quoted as saying.

The minister’s comments have upset terminally ill patients and health leaders.

A meeting of the ANMF Federal Council on Friday afternoon unanimously passed a motion condemning Elferink’s views.

“It is the view of the ANMF federal council that all citizens in our community deserve fair and equitable access that improves health outcomes and maximises quality of life,” the ANMF motion stated. “The elderly in the NT deserve to be treated with as much value and respect in terms of their health as all others in Australia.”

In a statement, ANMF federal secretary Lee Thomas questioned how the minister could make such comments, adding that they were a “callous and insensitive way to be talking about the elderly. As a health minister, he of all people should know that all Australians deserve access to quality care, whether in the first stage of life, or the final stage of life.”

ANMF NT branch secretary Yvonne Falckh echoed Thomas’ sentiments, saying her organisation was concerned that the minister may be keen to explore the possibility of diverting funding for treating the elderly to other age groups in the community.

“Our resolution today demonstrates our resolve in fighting any such move by the NT Government,” Falckh said. “Elderly, sick people in the NT deserve the same level of compassion and respect as people living anywhere else in Australia.”

Click below to hear more from Yvonne Falckh.

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  1. In this world of political correctness gone mad, I have to say that I tend to agree with what the minister says. Yes, we all deserve the same compassion, but that is not necessarily the same as pouring the same amount of dollars into ageing research when young people who have not had a life yet may suffer because of it. Perhaps it was his timing that was bad.

    • I would like to know how the minister or you for that matter would feel if it was his or your mother or father , him or you that was terminally ill. What we have and enjoy now is because of what the now elderly have contributed, in any case it is not only the elderly that may be terminally ill – it could be any age. In other and even third world countries the elders are respected but off course I forget this is a throw away society, lets have them suffer in agony till they die rather than continue to provide care and conduct research that might lead to the ease of suffering. Linda , it’s not about political correctness , the idea is cruel and inhumane and would constitute abuse of the human right to be treated with dignity and respect.

  2. Its understandable that nurses and unions object in this way but resources are finite. Many older people simply want a good death. This is different for individuals but mostly its about a pain-free passing at the end of a useful life with aged care residents often stating they are no use to anyone and are just waiting around to die.
    Whilst there are much more positive arguments about the value of older people, a timely pain-free passing is much preferred than extended and extensive efforts to prolong life where the quality of that life is questionable by the person concerned and many of their family and friends.

  3. Christiane Gemayel

    I think the comment was taking out of context ,as a Aged Care Registered Nurse for 28 years ,I have seen the suffering and the poor quality of life of some of my residents ,despite the best nursing care ,you can not give some resident the quality of life they should have and want ,due to medical or physical illness or dementia ,the family can not take the decision of accepting the palliative phase ,still believing that palliative is always terminal ,education should be given in the community to encourage people to take a decision on their Advance care plan and what are their wishes ,the palliative phase is to understand the futility of active treatment when the person do not have any more any enjoyment of living ,when the pain is constant or when the person refuses constantly adequate intake ,however regardless of age the person wishes should be respected ,therefore importance of awareness of what is available .