The excessive mortality rates during this pandemic crisis have revealed structural and systemic problems in the nursing home care model. In addition, the rise in life expectancy and the consequent increase in the number of older persons in the years to come, point out the need to reform the care model. How to guarantee improved accessibility, affordability and quality of care, as well as an adequate number of care workers with improved working conditions, are among the key challenges identified during the EESC hearing "Towards a new care model for the elderly: learning from the Covid-19 pandemic"
The remote hearing, which took place on 27 October 2021, brought together representatives from EU Institutions, social partners and civil society organisations, whose input will feed into an own-initiative opinion the Committee is preparing on this topic.
The rapporteur of the opinion Miguel Angel Cabra de Luna said in his opening remarks:
This opinion is not meant to be a comprehensive approach to ageing, but to focus on the issue of care for old people as they have been the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marie Zvolská, member of the study group on the opinion, pointed to some positive signs in long-term care provision, such as EU health or human-centred design of services developing policies with people and not for people.
During the hearing, health care models from Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany and Italy were presented, showcasing the different approaches, the respective national policies, the problems and difficulties due to the pandemic. The representative from the Union for Employer's Associations in Czech Republic, Matej Lejsal emphatically said:
The Long-Term care is not something that has been planned for the elderly, but it is something where each of us will live in.
Commenting on the varied long-term care landscape, Ms. Dana Bachman from the Commission's DG Employment affirmed the big differences in Long-Term Care (LTC) systems among the Member States in supply and organization and also added:
Nevertheless the challenges remain common.
According to the 2021 Long-Term care report prepared jointly by the Commission and the Social Protection Committee, the population ageing is expected to lead to a strong increase in demand for long-term care, as the number of people aged 65 or over is projected to rise by 41 %, to 130.1 million, over the next 30 years.
Towards that, Michaël De Gols, Director of the Union of Enterprises for Social Profit ASBL (UNISOC) said: "Population is getting older, we need more care but financing is missing. A sufficient, stable and sustainable financing is important for the long-term sector to be able to provide its services".
Further reforms need to be pursued by the Member States to address structural weaknesses in LTC systems and make them more resilient to future external shocks.
Referring to the Article 25 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on the rights of the elderly to lead a life of dignity and independence, the participants welcomed the Commission's initiative on LTC planned to be adopted in 2022. The European Care Strategy will set a framework for policy reforms and guide the development of long-term care systems that are sustainable and ensure better access to quality services for those in need.
Maciej Kucharczyk, Secretary General of the AGE Platform Europe, said:
Developing good care systems is an opportunity and services are the means to support people's autonomy, independency and quality of life.
The systemic weaknesses and the difficulties in ensuring continuity of care highlighted by the high number of deaths in long-term care facilities, brought to the fore also the vulnerable employment and working conditions of the carers.
During the pandemic, the LTC workers did some of the most demanding jobs without adequate support. Tuscany Bell, from the European Public Service Union (EPSU), said: In order to provide an adequate service for people in need of care, we need appropriate working conditions and a sufficient level of qualified personnel. Actually, an insufficient number of care workers care for too many people.
Ms. Bell focused on the importance of defending the workers' rights by strengthening collective bargaining and social dialogue, to improve wages and working conditions. Aligning funding with investment in the workforce can lead to positive outcomes for workers and residents. Funding needs to be conditional on providers abiding safe staffing ratios and good working conditions.
As active ageing has a cross cutting nature and touches upon economic and social policies, coordination between social and health services is needed. Reinforcing the systems with better funding will allow structural changes, making LTC more accessible and allowing old people to enjoy a life of dignity as autonomous and active members of society.