WHO announces a “deeply concerning picture” on COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities

Topics covered: COVID-19, government, health and social care, Maddi Gaunt

In a statement yesterday by the World Health Organisation Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, it was confirmed that current WHO estimates suggest that up to half of Covid-19 related deaths in Europe have been residents in long-term care facilities.

Unfortunately, this is not a huge surprise. A significant proportion of long-term residents of care services, particularly – although not exclusively – in those which provide for the elderly, are in the “vulnerable” category. In the UK at least, Covid-19 testing arrangements for care staff and residents and PPE supply chains have been woefully inadequate and the government was painfully slow to acknowledge the needs of and challenges posed to the care sector.

These are undoubtedly unusual times for the whole of the UK and the government has, at least more recently, begun to acknowledge the critical role that the care sector plays and appears to be more engaged in supporting the care sector. The picture painted by the WHO, however, suggests that too little has been done so far. We are still hearing from providers who are facing significant issues, particularly with staffing levels, funding, PPE and access to testing. Indeed, in Dr Kluge’s words, the care sector has been long “notoriously neglected”.

On a more positive note, Dr Kluge has called for countries to “step up” when it comes to the care sector. He said this should include:

  • Empowering care workers – by ensuring they have sufficient PPE, appropriate pay for the long hours and difficult work they carry out, sufficient training, and by changing the environments they work in to offer suitable levels of resources and staffing.
  • Changing how long-term facilities operate – to better prepare for dealing with the pandemic going forwards and striking a balance between the requirements of residents and their families, and ensuring that services are run safely and staff are protected and well supported.
  • Building systems that prioritize people’s needs – to promote quality, resourced and sustainable long term care systems, with support from the highest levels of government and society more widely, and ensuring better coordination and continuity between health and social services and information systems.

At present, providers – and indeed the government – are likely to be somewhat overwhelmed and are still desperately trying to get to grips with the best way to bring the pandemic under control. However, it is positive to see the sector has been given more recognition and we hope that,` once the dust has settled a little, these calls for positive reform are not ignored.

The full statement is available on the WHO website.

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