Give Carers A Break This Summer

MEDIA RELEASE        22 December, 2014

Health service claims of ‘granny dumping’ over the summer holidays are often made at this time of year, but the national charity which supports New Zealand’s 430,000+ family carers says the issue reflects the country’s fragmented respite system. 

“For every case of so-called granny dumping there are thousands of Kiwis providing 24/7 care for someone who is frail or has high support needs, and they need a break just like everyone else over the holidays,” says chief executive Laurie Hilsgen. 

She says breaks can be hard to organise, even if this is done months before the busy summer period, because there aren’t enough funded respite beds to meet demand. And in some parts of the country, respite funding is not currently available to support families stretched by employment, family, and financial pressures. 

“It’s all very well to talk about the ageing population and policies that sound great in theory like ‘ageing in place’. But if someone has 24/7 support needs it requires huge commitment by families to keep them at home. Very few carers will ‘dump’ a loved one on a hospital’s doorstep so they can go camping at Christmas. It’s unfair to see this focus on caring when the reality is so different.” 

Carers NZ is calling for a workable respite system across age groups to sustain the country’s family carers, almost 90% of whom are of workforce age and who typically juggle paid jobs with support roles for loved ones. The Christmas and New Year holidays are an important time of year for carers, says Ms Hilsgen, and being able to have a break from employment and caring can help to ward off burnout and depression in the year ahead. 

The national Trust has partnered with service provider Bupa, which has committed to providing respite beds on demand for older people across New Zealand from Christmas until March, typically a period of strongest demand for respite services. 

Managing Director Grainne Moss says the company was concerned that respite doors were being closed to family carers at a time of year when they most needed a break. 

“We have seen this need growing each year and have put a stake in the sand to guarantee respite beds for those planning holidays away, or in emergency situations where someone may need support after being discharged from hospital or if the carer is exhausted or needs to have a break.” 

“From Northland down to Invercargill, we are standing by to help over the holidays, including supporting carers to access available government funding for respite.” 

Ms Hilsgen says the Bupa approach is a step in the right direction and hopes District Health Boards and other respite providers will put themselves in a carer’s shoes this Christmas, and follow suit with their own planning to better support carers. 

“Caring is a precious social and family value, something we should safeguard in a world that often seems uncaring at this time of year.”