Radical change

drjoystjohnBarbados’ ageing population could mean a radical change in the way service is delivered will be necessary.

And, according to Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John at a multi-stakeholders consultation on healthy ageing this morning at Savannah Hotel, it is no longer a case or preparing the elderly to cope in an age of a single disease, but along with ageing also handling issues of multiple diseases as well.

Pointing out that as more people lived longer, chronic diseases had emerged as a major cause of disability and dependency, St. John stated that this led some elder to eventually need assisted care.

“The development of a public health policy is therefore crucial in charting the way forward for our elderly population in Barbados. We may need to change models of service delivery in radical ways. To prolong healthy lives for the elderly, we need to shift the focus from providing good care for a single disease to providing good health in the face of multiple diseases.

“Our health system and medical education must be reoriented to meet the challenges of multiple morbidities. Traditionally, our health system was designed, and doctors were educated, to manage usually brief, acute episodes of infectious diseases.

“However dramatic changes are needed to cope with the long-term demands of preventing the development of illness, detecting NCDs early and managing them efficiently and effectively, often for a lifetime. The boundaries between primary care and specialist care need to soften,” she stated.

She further told the room of health professionals and a civic organisations that deal with the ageing that it was important to keep the elderly in their own home environments for as long as possible, enabling a longer social integration which was important, as well as ensuring there was easy access to social services and broad-based health care.

This, she continued, called for close collaboration between health and social services in an approach that embraced the social determinants of health within an effective public health policy. The formulation of the policy was the overall aim of the consultation.

“The formulation of programmes designed specifically for the elderly is essential. These programmes must be structured to reintegrate our senior citizens into their families and communities so that they are not housed in institutions where they are plagued with feelings of loneliness and despair.”

As the number of nursing and care facilities increased, St. John said the Ministry was aware of the need “to continually monitor the care of the elderly”, noting that a special unit, the Advisory and Inspection Committee for Nursing Homes and Senior Citizens homes, investigated any complaints received.

“The Ministry of course recognises that as the number of nursing homes increases, there must be a strengthening of monitoring and quality assurance that must be applied not only to private nursing homes but throughout our public sector geriatric care system.

“An intersectoral approach involving national security, health, housing, transport and recreation is a prerequisite for healthy public policy. In addition, the private sector and non-governmental organisations have much to contribute,” she said, congratulating the Barbados Association of Retired Persons for placing the issues of the elderly on the front burner. (LB)

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