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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. – Mr President, once again, I thank the honourable Members for this important debate on the impact of COVID—19 on long-term care facilities. Those affected include the elderly, and I take this opportunity to welcome the work of the German Presidency on the rights of the elderly in digitalisation, which was mentioned by one or two Members. Member States are aware that active ageing also means being able to fully participate in society. Today we inhabit a more digitalised world. Digitalisation and technology help older people in their autonomy and ability to connect with others.

It also raises issues on the right to privacy. This calls for action in increasing digital literacy for older people. Digital tools must be accessible and easy to use for all ages. Those who are unable to use them must be provided with alternative ways of accessing essential services.

The fundamental rights and values of the European Union are indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity. These rights are valid throughout the whole life cycle, from birth to death. In my role as Vice—President for Democracy and Demography, the whole of the live cycle is the focus of my work, and I have to think about the most vulnerable in our policy-making, particularly when we consider long-term care facilities.

I see that you share these views and would like to address some points raised here today. There were questions on Article 19 from Ms Metz on implementation and on funding. I would like to answer that the Commission is committed to the entire European Pillar of Social Rights. In order to deliver, we will present, next year, an action plan on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Regarding funding, someone said that there is no reference in the Treaty on European Union responsibilities, but there is the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative and, of course, the European Union Recovery and Resilience Facility. Then, as I mentioned in my introductory statement, there is REACT-EU, but also don’t forget that we are negotiating the Multiannual Financial Framework. Also, of course, there is the European Social Fund, and I am aligned with those who said that the European Semester can also be one of the tools.

Mr Brglez mentioned the quality standards for long-term care. I mentioned the Green Paper consultation at the beginning, so let’s discuss which measures are required and at which level – at European level and at Member State level. We will need to take a close look at long-term care, and I’m totally in alignment with you.

Regarding a stronger role for the European Union in health care and long—term care, you will remember the State of the Union address by our President, Ursula von der Leyen, which was held here two weeks ago. She mentioned health. So let’s use the Conference on the Future of Europe to discuss the role of health and the role of the European Union: what can we do and what can we improve? Because almost all of you were talking about this. So I think this Conference on the Future of Europe, which will be launched soon, may be one of the instruments through which we can debate this important issue.

The COVID—19 pandemic exposed gaps in long-term care, showing a lack of coordination of services between healthcare and long—term care providers, and of course this resulted in difficulties for home residents to access health services, including patients with COVID—19 and patients with chronic conditions.

The pandemic and containment measures also intensified loneliness. Many of you mentioned loneliness, solitude and isolation. We are completely aware that loneliness is a phenomenon, and we will definitely tackle this issue. There is psychological distress here too, not only among older people, but among all users of these facilities. The service providers themselves – the carers – have had to work under extremely difficult conditions, improvising on many levels in their efforts to go above and beyond the call of duty. Effective care management through the involvement and collaboration of clinicians, patients, users and caregivers is necessary. It can form the cornerstone in the transformation of health and long—term care systems in providing services that are adapted to the needs, values and preferences of the users, while supporting the providers.

Once again, I cannot forget the images of isolation, loneliness and grief that emerged from our long-term care homes across the European Union. In some places it is still happening. We must strive to ensure that no one has to experience the loss of a loved one in such a traumatic way ever again. By pulling together, we can demonstrate the value of our solidarity by providing the long-term care sector with the support they need, which in turn helps build a better society for all of us. This requires efforts on all sides, as many of you said – at European level, at Member State level, among regional and local authorities, and, yes, at a societal and individual level.

Thank you once again for this debate. I am looking forward to cooperation in the future.

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