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Thursday, 8 October 2020 - Brussels Revised edition

The impact of Covid-19 outbreak on long-term care facilities (debate)

  Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President of the Commission. – Madam President, what we are discussing here today is people’s lives. Talking about long—term care facilities means talking about both those giving and receiving care in a particularly vulnerable situation. Due to protective measures, persons in care could no longer receive family and visitors. Long—term care facilities could not immediately provide the type of care required in such exceptional circumstances.

At particular moments in life we also rely on the commitment and dedication of others. Never has this been more visible than during the current pandemic, when carers held the hands of their residents. The staff in long—term care facilities did their best to provide not just comfort and dignity at the end of a precious life, but also a sense of tenderness and care.

People working in long—term care facilities deserve more than our applause and gratitude. We can pay tribute to them, but we must also take action. We need to deliver for residents and carers in our policymaking.

COVID—19 brings unprecedented challenges health—wise, economically and socially. Some people are more at risk than others, especially the elderly, and people with a disability. When it comes to social services, there are users and service providers; we cannot help one if we do not help the other. We have seen how care workers and those receiving care are particularly exposed to the virus and its devastating consequences. This is of great concern to us. We need to improve the protection of the most vulnerable in our societies. Too many lives have already been lost. We know that social services have been under particular strain and the Commission is committed to help. Together with Commissioners Nicolas Schmit, who is responsible for jobs and social rights, and Stella Kyriakides, in charge of health, and Helena Dalli, responsible for equality, we have held discussions with organisations focusing on services to the elderly, people with disabilities, and others who are in need of long—term care. We are listening to the sector and are assessing different instruments and possible solutions to support both providers and users of these services.

Not all of today’s problems are new. The capacity of long—term care facilities to deal with any crisis was laid bare by COVID—19. Clearly, there are structural deficiencies – the lack of staff, difficult working conditions, low salaries and access to services.

Ongoing issues with affordability and the quality of long—term care services also come to mind, as well as the availability of such services in rural and remote regions. This explains why we are assessing whether our social protection systems are fit to deal with the needs of an aging population. Families of women provide a large part of informal long—term care. Informal carers deserve better support such as social protection, income replacement, training, counselling and day care.

The gender care gap must be addressed, including the equal sharing of informal care responsibilities. We can do this through the implementation of the Directive on Work-life Balance, which should be transposed by 2022.

Long—term care systems need revamping to better prepare them for rising long—term care needs and future health crisis. Funding issues must be addressed at Member State level because this is where the competence lies. However, I cannot stand here as a Member of the Commission and say that our hands are tied. We have been very active. I will share some examples with you.

The React—EU programme will continue and extend to the crisis response and repair measures by reinforcing capacities in health and long—term care. In addition, the Commission is working with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to protect vulnerable groups including older people in residential homes, but also in places like migrant centres and prisons.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has published guidance on infection prevention, control and preparedness for COVID—19 in healthcare settings as well as guidance regarding surveillance of COVID—19 in long—term care facilities.

This guidance is a much needed tool for use right across the European Union. The joint report of the Commission and the Social Protection Committee on the preparedness of long—term care systems in the European Union will provide evidence and clear mapping of the challenges that need to be tackled.

The Commission is committed to implementing the European pillar of social rights, including principles of access to quality health and long—term care. Preparations are ongoing for the upcoming action plan for the implementation of the European pillar of social rights to be adopted in 2021 under the guidance of my colleague Commissioner Schmit. The elderly must fully enjoy these rights, too. It is beyond doubt that COVID—19 has hit the elderly hardest. At the same time, our work in tackling demographic change shows that our Union is aging. Given the current and future context, we need to discuss this and factor it into all aspects of our policy action.

Let me be clear, dear Members of Parliament: aging concerns all generations, not just the elderly. In early 2021 we will present a Green Paper on aging with the aim of launching a wide debate to discuss the long—term impacts of aging, care and pensions, active aging and the capacity of social protection systems to deal with an aging population. We will look at inter—generational solidarity and fairness, impacts on the labour market, the economy, and health and care systems. A substantial part will deal with questions on long—term care. Based on the outcome of the consultations, the Commission could be in a better position to consider what further initiatives could be taken on long—term care.

To conclude, dear ladies and gentlemen, to borrow a thought from Dostoevsky: you can best judge a society by how by how it treats its most vulnerable members, and those who take care of them. If we learn one lesson from the COVID—19 pandemic, let it be the importance of solidarity. Solidarity between generations must be one of the driving forces of Europe’s recovery, as set out in the Commission’s proposal for a major recovery plan to repair and prepare for the next generation. Only together can we successfully exit the crisis and build a future.

As I said at the beginning, we can pay tribute to the service providers, but we must also take action. We need to deliver for the service providers and users in our policymaking. In this I count on your support.

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