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WHO/Europe and European Commission Establish New Partnership for Better Long-Term Care

WHO/Europe and the European Commission have joined forces to support countries in the European Union working to improve long-term care. The new partnership, which will inform WHO/Europe’s work in the European Region, will focus on improving access and quality of long-term care services while providing important support to informal caregivers, who often play a crucial role in care provision. 

Within the European Region, 135 million people are living with disabilities, and nearly 1 in 3 older people cannot meet their basic needs independently. Access to good-quality, integrated, long-term care is essential for these people to maintain their functional ability, enjoy basic human rights and live with dignity. 

Integrated delivery of care happens when people can access the care they need in a timely and comprehensive way, with services ranging from prevention, treatment, long-term care to rehabilitative or palliative care. These can be provided in health and long-term care facilities, in their homes or in the community. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of care systems, including inadequate long-term care services and poor integration with health-care delivery. In the European Union alone, the initial waves of the pandemic resulted in approximately 200 000 deaths among residents of long-term care facilities.  

“The lessons of the pandemic are clear. But are we better prepared now to face a challenge of this scale? What we know is that we need to invest more in our health systems, including in the way we deliver long-term care to those who need it,” said Dr Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, WHO/Europe’s Director of Country Health Policies and Systems.   

“Improving access and quality of care across our communities will be key, in addition to supporting caregivers, irrespective of whether they are family members, volunteers or part of the workforce. We are proud of this new partnership with the European Union in this important area of work, and we look forward to leveraging all the tools we have at our disposal to protect people’s health, regardless of where they live,” Dr Azzopardi-Muscat added.   

“Many long-term care challenges are not just national or European, but global. We are therefore happy to join forces with WHO, building also on their extensive expertise in supporting reforms towards integrated care and adapting health systems to the needs of an ageing population. The strategic partnership with WHO is a step forward towards ensuring access to high-quality affordable long-term care for all,” said Ms Katarina Ivanković Knežević, Director for Social Rights and Inclusion at the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission.  

Demand for long-term care expected to increase

While access to long-term care services varies across countries within the Region, available data from European Union countries indicate that only 1 in 3 older people with care needs can access care in the community. 

As the population ages, the demand for long-term care is expected to rise. By 2024, the WHO European Region will have more older adults (65+ years) than children and adolescents, with an estimated 2 out of every 3 older people requiring care and support at some point in their lives.  

The new partnership will develop tools to support countries’ long-term care reform efforts and help to monitor progress towards improved service coverage, more affordable care and better coordination of health and long-term care services across people’s life-course.   

The partnership’s activities will align with WHO/Europe’s upcoming work to support the development of integrated care for healthy ageing, including a regional framework for action on integrated health and care systems to aid coordination, collaboration, joint learning, innovation and monitoring of integrated care delivery and age-friendly communities.  

Supporting the informal care workforce

The majority of care in the European Region is provided informally by families and local communities. Through their efforts, informal caregivers help to bridge gaps in service coverage and ensure care for those unable to access or afford formal care services.  

The partnership will also support these informal caregivers by developing a set of open-access tools that can help them as they care for others.  

The COVID-19 pandemic put enormous pressure on health and care workers and informal caregivers alike. Two out of 3 caregivers in the European Union reported deteriorating mental and physical health due to intensified caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic.  

Workforce shortages, as highlighted in WHO/Europe’s regional report “Health and care workforce in Europe: time to act”, are also affecting the quality and quantity of long-term care across the Region. Urgent investments are required to address these shortages, focusing on training, recruitment, retention, and protection of the long-term care workforce.  

Additionally, around 3 out of 4 informal caregivers are women, and it is estimated that women make up 80% of the formal care workforce. Despite their immense contributions to society, these caregivers often face insufficient recognition, challenging working conditions, excessive care burden, and chronic stress.  

“Millions of women providing care for family members today sacrifice work opportunities, leisure time and, far too often, their health,” Dr Azzopardi-Muscat explained. “That is why investing in fairer care systems is so crucial to promoting gender equality. It is also the smart investment, especially if we are to create well-being economies that put people’s quality of life at the heart of economic recovery.”

Source : WHO

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