COVID-19 and care for older people: The urgent wake-up call of the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner
Brussels, Belgium - 27 May 2020
AGE Platform Europe (AGE) warmly welcomes the recent statement of Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, on the impacts of COVID-19 on long-term care facilities and the lessons to be drawn. It reasserts the long-standing commitment of the Council of Europe to human rights in older age, and should trigger both immediate responses and systemic policy reforms to address the many failures of Europe’s long-term care systems.
AGE fully shares Commissioner Mijatović’s concerns over the tragic numbers of deaths of older persons in residential care and nursing homes, which account for around half of all COVID-19-related deaths in Europe.
Today’s problems find their roots in long-lasting and systemic failures in long-term care systems. These include, as pointed by Commissioner Mijatović, the risks associated with the difficult working conditions; the profit-making goal of some companies involved in the sector; and the risks inherent to the over-reliance on care homes as opposed to community-based care, including a higher risk of infection.
“AGE has long-time called for a shift in Europe’s deficient long-term care systems towards person-centred, quality and comprehensive services that truly realise human rights. We must stop the undervaluing of care for older people and address the deep deficits of the sector.
We fully share Commissioner Mijatović’s most timely wake-up call to states to reform in depth their long-term care systems and ensure that such tragedy will never happen again”.
Anne-Sophie-Parent, AGE’s Secretary-General
AGE calls on policy makers at all governance levels across Europe to reform long-term care systems, in particular by adopting the following measures:
- Implement with no delay the principle 18 of the European Pillar of Social Rights on the right to long-term care. This should encompass improved access to quality community-based services, recognition of care work and improved working conditions in LTC services as well as support for informal carers.
- Enforce as soon as possible surveillance systems as recommended by the ECDC
- Introduce monitoring mechanisms of long-term care provision based on quality indicators and targets, which can be commonly defined under EU’s leadership to allow for benchmarking.
- Address the common challenges of access, affordability and quality of long-term care in the upcoming EU Green Paper on Ageing.
- Ensure that enough fiscal space is provided in states’ budgets, including through EU’s economic governance tools, for care-related investments and innovation.
- Tackle the long-term consequences of COVID-19 through dedicated measures to better protect the rights and dignity of older persons in need of care and assistance, as all EU member states and the EU itself committed to in a joint letter supporting UN Secretary General’s recent statement on COVID-19 and older persons. EU budget 2021-2027 must help national long-term care systems through earmarked co-financing of such measures.
“We have reached a turning point and immediate action is needed. Public demand to act is bigger than ever. And the EU does have a key role to play by encouraging and supporting member states to develop adequate long-term care systems. The work of the Council of Europe and at United Nations on the rights of older persons offer good frameworks to guide the development of such policies”, concluded Ms Parent.
- Lessons to be drawn from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic in long-term care facilities (Council of Europe)
- COVID-19: Older persons’ rights must be equally protected during the pandemic
- Residential institutions in the eye of the COVID-19 storm: governments must act quickly to protect residents and personnel (AGE press release)
 AGE Platform Europe is the European network of organisations advocating for the rights of older persons. More information: www.age-platform.eu
 For more information, read AGE’s Policy Statement on this matter: https://www.age-platform.eu/sites/default/files/Residential%20care%20for%20older%20persons_AGE%20policy%20statement_Dec2017.pdf