By Stephen Easton
More nurses with specialised training in Parkinson’s disease are needed to deal with the rapidly growing number of people with the condition and cut costs both for them and taxpayers, according to a report published this week.
The 2011 update of the Deloitte Access Economics report, Living with Parkinson’s Disease, notes that each one of the UK’s 264 Parkinson’s nurses save the nation’s taxpayers up to $60,000 in consultant appointments, $105,000 in avoided hospital admissions and $194,000 in hospital bed days each year, based on a recent figures from Parkinson’s UK.
The report recommended increased funding to educate nurses in the specialty as “a key positive step for the future”, and concluded “the potential benefits are stark in the context of growing numbers of [people with Parkinson’s] and significant and growing health system and other financial costs in Australia going forward.”
Parkinson’s Australia CEO, Daryl Smeaton, believes the number of nurses in Australia who specialise in caring for people with Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases needs to increase six-fold, from 33 to about 200.
“You can imagine that with only 33 in the whole country, they don’t go anywhere near meeting the need, which has been proven by the UK experience,” Mr Smeaton said.
“You might ask why we need 200 in Australia for only 22 million people, when there’s 270 in the UK for about 60 million. The UK fits into Australia geographically about 25 times, so it’s the tyranny of distance; the fact that if you live outside a metropolitan area your medical and professional services are greatly dimished.”
Mr Smeaton said community and residential aged care providers should expect their need for these specialist skills to increase, and that the specialist nurses would either work with – or within – the aged care workforce.
“It is important for aged care providers to know that we’ve had a 17 per cent increase in Parkinson’s disease numbers in the last six years – that’s faster than population growth and also faster than the over-65 age bracket has grown,” he said.
“I think there is a lack of capacity within the health system that would be substantially met by the provision of these nurses.
“Some of the very large aged care facilities might be able to employ a specialist nurse, but we’ve found from experience around the country … that they also coordinate the different services required, for hospitals and aged care facilities.
“The experience is they fill the gap and provide the link between professionals like the neurologist, GP, speech therapist, physiotherapist – all the people who are involved in supporting a person with Parkinson’s and of course, their family and carers.”
Parkinson’s Australia has also lobbied for neurological nurses to be included in Medicare Locals’ multidisciplinary approach to primary healthcare.
The Deloitte Access Economics report estimates there are around 64,000 people with Parkinson’s in Australia, 10 per cent of whom live in residential aged care facilities, and that about 30 new cases are diagnosed every day.
It put the total cost to the Australian economy in 2011 at $775.4 million, which includes costs to the health system, loss of productivity and the $12,000 incurred every year by those with the disease.