Nurses angrily rejected comments from the NT health minister, after he argued last week 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, 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 late last week 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 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 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.”
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