Preparing for a grey WA

Preparing for a grey WA

Dr PK Loh
President, Australian New Zealand Society of Geriatric Medicine WA

Monday 8 April 2019


Like every other state in our nation, Western Australia is undergoing an unprecedented demographic transition never experienced before. The WA Planning Commission projects that the number of Western Australians aged 65 years and over will increase by 35 per cent between 2018 and 2026 to 516,000 in total.


Over the same timeframe, those aged 80 years and over is projected to increase by 40,000 or 42 per cent.


In keeping with these changes, the Commonwealth Government has addressed the relative deficiency of residential care beds in WA by a recent massive injection of resources.


The WA Department of Health, however, has effectively capped services specific to older people i.e. inpatient subacute services at 2013 levels. The rationale for this has not been explicitly stated nor addressed by the Interim Report of the Sustainable Health Review.


In addition, state-funded ambulatory (outpatient) based care may be even worse off. There is a major issue where the workforce training needs for an ageing population are being achieved in WA, but there are no positions for these specialist clinicians to occupy. 


In November last year, the Minister for Health the Hon Roger Cook MLA met with trainees (full-time and part-time) in Geriatric Medicine at Bentley Hospital to hear some of their concerns. Issues raised included job opportunities, residential aged care, community services and training in WA.


In 2021, WA will host the National Geriatric Medicine Conference with around 600 specialists from around Australia expected to gather in Perth to discuss, present and review recent research and advances in the area of Geriatric Medicine.


One of the themes for the conference as suggested by Minister Cook at the November 2018 meeting was the provision of aged care in remote areas of WA – a particularly difficult issue given our State is approximately the size of India. There are many small ageing communities in extremely remote areas, which are underserviced, and these include many Indigenous communities.


Concerns about the coordination of aged care at the state and commonwealth levels were also raised at another meeting in May 2018. The meeting with heads of department of aged care services in public hospitals took place during a seminar on medical issues in residential aged care, which was hosted by the Geriatric Medicine Society of Western Australia.


The HoD meeting also raised issues such as the lack of planning for WA’s ageing population, the fact that no formal needs analysis had been performed and that there seemed little oversight of the implementation of previous strategies within the WA metropolitan and rural regions. The lack of a formal ageing division within the WA Health Department was identified as a possible contributor to these problems – WA is the only state without such a division.


There was acknowledgement, though, that our State is a leader in hip fracture repair outcomes, dementia care and aged care research with leading academics in Geriatric Medicine such as Professor Leon Flicker AO.


The WA State Division of the Australian New Zealand Society of Geriatric Medicine hopes to assist with the stewardship of quality aged care provided in our State.


This year, it plans to establish an information campaign to educate the public and decision makers such as the treasurer and health department executives about better systems and approaches that will make provision of aged care more sustainable.



I would like to acknowledge the contributions of Prof Leon Flicker, Dr Barry Vieira, Dr Kate Ingram, Dr Nicholas Waldron and ANZSGM WA Secretary Dr Philip McDaid in the writing of this article.

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