Expert praises $44 mil in health funding

An Illawarra population expert has praised the state government for its "forward thinking" in the distribution of the Restart Illawarra infrastructure fund.

Almost half of the $100 million fund - $44.69 million - was allocated to health projects, with a major focus on aged care and disability.

Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local (ISML) Population Health and Planning manager Abhijeet Ghosh said the region's "ballooning" ageing population meant planning - and funding - for associated services needed to be a priority.

Disabled aged care model hailed

Mr Ghosh is the lead author of the ISML Population Health Profile 2013, which revealed 67,781 people or 17.6 per cent of the ISML catchment area was aged 65 or above.

This is significantly higher than the NSW average of 14.5 per cent.

"The population of people aged 65 or above in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven is projected to grow at an annual average rate of 3.1 per cent over the next seven to 10 years, which is huge," he said.

"The plethora of health services that will be required to cater to this population is massive and we should be looking at planning appropriately for them.

"It's just fortunate that the sale of this site [the Port Kembla port] has led to some funding that can be channelled into the aged care sector."

This week's funding announcement by Minister for the Illawarra John Ajaka includes $8 million for an aged care centre at Kiama Hospital and $14.46 million for a centre of excellence for aged care at Bulli Hospital.

The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District is involved in both projects, and chairman Denis King said he was delighted with the outcome.

Professor King said while there had been criticism from some quarters that the NSW Health budget should fund health projects, he believed they were a "very reasonable use" of the port funds.

"Aged care is a problem that's going to overwhelm society if we don't deal with it properly - it's the major medical issue we face," he said. "There aren't sufficient funds in healthcare to do all the things we need to do. The capital budget for health in NSW is about $800 million across the entire state and that has to be divided up between 18 districts and networks."

Prof King said a recent Illawarra Regional Information Service report indicated 17,000 jobs needed to be created in the region in the next 15 to 20 years - nearly 7000 of which would come from the health sector.

"These sorts of projects mean people will be able to have satisfying jobs in the Illawarra and not have to move away," he said.

Warrigal Care was also successful in obtaining $17 million to build a residential care home and community hub for older people at Shell Cove.

Warrigal Care CEO Mark Sewell said the Restart funding would allow the facility, which will provide more than 125 jobs, to be opened in late 2015, which was years ahead of schedule.

Warrigal also applied for $20 million for a 120-bed facility in Wollongong under the fund, but was not successful.

Mr Sewell said he was still hopeful of obtaining government funding for this project, and urged the community to get behind growth in the sector.

"There's a concern about the ageing of the population, but in fact areas and regions that embrace it can see that the ageing of the population is an advantage that can bring population, stability, new services and demand, and asset and capital wealth," he said.

"If the Illawarra, which already has an ageing population above the state average, can embrace that then even more people will see that this is an ideal place to live after the age of 60."

Fast facts

• 17.6 per cent of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local catchment population is aged 65 or above. This is significantly higher than the NSW average of 14.5 per cent.

• The Shoalhaven has the highest proportion of aged residents with 26.1 per cent of the population aged 65 or above. In Kiama 20.1 per cent of the population are 65-plus.

• The population of people in the Illawarra Shoalhaven catchment is projected to grow at an average annual  rate of 3.1 per cent until 2021.

• In 2008 there were 1449 people with a disability in NSW being cared for by an ageing carer; in 2013 that figure had reached more than 3000.

• By 2036, 25 per cent of carers of people with an intellectual disability will be over the age of 65. 

Sources: Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local Population Health Profile 2013; IRT chief executive Nieves Murray

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