Supporting our care givers

They are without doubt the unsung heroes of the New Zealand health system. Working tirelessly looking after charges who require round the clock care, they make do on a pitiful wage whilst in many ways doing more than a nurse in a rest home. They have no support network to fall back upon and – it would seem – an acute shortage of their number.

They are the care givers whose task is to look after our most severely handicapped people. Some of these handicapped people are people who cannot feed, clothe, wash themselves, speak or walk. Some have severe handicaps that mean that they cannot cope with unfamiliar situations and get angry or upset.

I believe that we need to fundamentally overhaul our view of these unsung heroes, the conditions in which they work and the support that we offer them. Whilst we fail to do that, we cannot really call ourselves a first world nation in this regard.

There I propose that:

  1. A whole new category of nursing/caregiving is created to deal with the type of challenges that would get thrown up by doing this job
  2. A matching qualification, since the people who do this need to know a combination of basic nursing that enables them to provide care for non-emergency state medical issues; training them around feeding, clothing, washing
  3. That they be offered the same starting rate as nurses
  4. Be able to have on call in house assistance 24/7
  5. An annual leave allowance
  6. A union or other supporting body that
  7. A social worker who handles welfare issues appointed as their case manager

Yes this is a major task setting up such support. However the challenges faced by care givers who are humans and have their own needs as well, which is something that I do not think many people seem to recognize – it is a life sentence if you have to look after a severely disabled son/daughter or other person.

It was not until 2013 that the Government acknowledged New Zealand needed to better support care givers, and made them eligible for Government payment. It however was a disappointment with them only being entitled to the minimum wage. In 2015, there was further progress when an Employment Court ruling required that home care workers be paid at least the minimum rate when working 24 hour home based care shifts.

Whilst there has been progress, there have also been some examples of loopholes in the system where caregivers driven to despair, have been forced by their circumstances to commit mercy killings and have gone to jail for it. The sentencing judge recognized the nature of the case in sentencing Donella Knox, but this is a part of the legal system where significant changes need to be made.

Without doubt providing care to a severely disabled person is one of the most stressful medical/social worker type jobs one could dream of. It takes a special type of person to take such work on, much less persevere it. Which is why it should not be difficult for parties in Parliament to agree on better support.

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