Grey Power is a lobby group for people over 50 years of age. We speak up for pensioners, but the group between 50 and 65 are hardest hit in many ways – being made redundant, out of work, finding it hard to become re-employed, with often a mortgage and childrens’ education costs to meet, as well as health costs. Any hope of private health insurance or saving for one’s old age is simply not possible. Pensioners can also be responsible for grandchildren and all the heartache that entails.

Our interest in health covers the whole health system. We have, or have had, families

Older people don’t want to be a nuisance. They have the silent illnesses. Arthritis, stroke,  kidney failure, blindness, the slow cancers,  leukaemia, loss of memory, high blood pressure, Alzheimers’ group of illnesses, diabetes and chronic joint problems with constant pain. Nothing flash. These illnesses have a slow onset; they limit one’s abilities to face the world and limit one’s contact with the outside world.

Most of us in this age group regard the health system as something we bought and paid for during our working life. However true, or not true this may be, it hurts to see the young and reckless taking up surgical beds and getting post-operative rehabilitation for totally mindless and avoidable accidents executed while breaking several laws simultaneously. Meanwhile, older people are knocked off the elective surgical list with brutal butchery. “Elective surgery”, once meaning one chose to have it, now means any surgical procedure which can be put off indefinitely –  never mind the patient’s discomfort. At the same time, private health schemes are not an option most pensioners can buy into. As you get older and your income becomes static or decreases, the premiums go up.

We have choices and we often use them. A living will asks that no medical dramas be performed on us, at enormous cost, when our time has come. Our time has come when we choose; it is related to quality of life. Blindness, loneliness, disablement and loss of family can all contribute to this decision. Refusing expensive treatment, choosing to live our last few months or years with only palliative care are real choices. And for many, a wise advocate is needed for support.  Very young doctors have difficulty seeing our decision as the “right” one. The young cling so dearly to life.

It is unfair to say that the growing aging population is a huge expense on the public health purse. In our youth, we did everything possible to shorten our lives – we smoked, drank, swam in unattended rivers and seas, we walked alone at night and we over-ate, especially fat and sugar … we had infectious illnesses such as poliomyelitis and mumps and measles, which took many of us off in our childhood … we even went to war.

Those of us who are still around find it farcical to be told, on the one hand, to watch our diet, avoid heart attacks and strokes, have regular medical check-ups for early detection and cure of illnesses, only to be told, on the other hand, that we clog up the health system and worse … there are more of us living for even longer. You can’t have it both ways.

According to the financial report at the District Health Board meeting on February 18th, the Health of Older People is over-budget mainly driven by volume growth – i.e there are too many of us. The real cost is in aged residential care and home-based support. Support in our own homes and medical advocacy is of major importance to the older person.
Growth in pharmaceutical costs is the other  blow-out budget. Old people with chronic conditions use a lot of pharmaceuticals.

Grey Power thinks we must first of all take responsibility for our own health.
Keeping active, keeping out there in the community, being needed, having an occupation, eating well, keeping warm, observing simple hygiene rules, avoiding accidents, attending tai chi and falls prevention programmes – all contribute to good health. We recommend and support these activities among our members. We support Green Prescription as being of more benefit to our members than medication.

Grey Power actively encourages an informed membership. Ignorance of medications, rights, treatments, entitlements, costs, and sources of help – all prevent people from getting the best care. And so we act as a resource for information and where to go for information. We have a memorandum of understanding with our local District Health Board.

Currently we are investigating chemists’ fees. These are fees which chemists have set up themselves outside of their contract with the Health Board through the Health Ministry. Chemists are paid million of dollars to keep medications funded by Pharmac at $3 a prescription for pensioners. Chemists say they are under-funded and have applied extra fees to their clients. This is unfair. The matter is between chemists and their contractors, not chemists and their clients.

We have a problem when members of a District Health Board have vested interests in the private health sector, even though this means they are well-informed on many health matters.

We think that the District Health Board should be an advocate for the district in matters of transport, clean air, food safety, safety of medications, clean water and support of community run health services … and we advocate accordingly.

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