Covid-19 is not the first pandemic, nor will it be the last. Nonetheless, it has had a remarkable impact on the world.
Now, almost two years since the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in Europe, the virus continues to dominate the policy agenda. There have been over 1.5 million deaths in Europe alone, despite the countless restrictions and quarantine requirements.
Experts are saying that the COVID-19 pandemic is merely indicative of a future that will contain far more and far deadlier pandemics. This forecast, along with the high-death toll, has resulted in an almost unanimous call for urgent policy reform for healthcare on a global scale. In the EU, the crisis has generated a desire to build a more resilient healthcare system. And over the last year, the European Commission has undertaken a string of legislative developments that aimed to bolster existing healthcare and create a more resilient system that includes dedicated protocols for disease control.
In the EU, the crisis has generated a desire to build a more resilient healthcare system. And over the last year, the European Commission has undertaken a string of legislative developments that aimed to bolster existing healthcare and create a more resilient system that includes dedicated protocols for disease control.
However, it is naïve to believe that the pandemic is the sole cause of the strain on healthcare. Perhaps due to their susceptibility to fall gravely ill from COVID-19, the pandemic also emphasized the ageing population of Europe. We are at this stage, where the ‘baby boomer generation’ has either reached retirement, or is about to. Thus, while the ageing population is a global phenomenon, the pace at which the population ages is substantially faster in some countries than in others.
Japan is widely regarded as the country with the largest demographic of elderly people. In fact, it is home to over 80,000 centenarians. However, as depicted in the table below, the EU is quickly providing one of the most distinctive examples of demographic ageing, with their rapidly ageing population having landed them in the second spot, just behind Japan.
Thus, while the pandemic highlighted the need to build a more resilient healthcare system, this was complemented by the realization that the EU has a rapidly ageing demographic that not only exacerbates any existing inadequacies, but also presents a whole new set of challenges to be addressed by its healthcare systems.
As people age, they tend to require more frequent healthcare. Depending on various factors, this can often lead to a need for semi-regular care. Generally speaking, the elderly require some form of long-term care at some stage, regardless of whether this is provided at home or in facilities that include nursing homes and assisted living. The ageing demographic in Europe suggests that an increased percentage of the population will become dependent on existing infrastructures that can assist them through daily life in the coming years.
Unlike their Asian counterpart, surveys have found that most Europeans do not expect to move in with their family members when they are older. So, the potential pressure that Europe’s ageing society will put on healthcare services is significantly magnified.
However, the unprecedented reliance on home care to treat and support people outside of the hospitals brings up the question of whether home healthcare is merely a trend incited by the pandemic or if it is a shift that reflects multiple factors, including the ageing demographic.
Home care, regardless of the patient’s age, has actually been rising drastically over the past few years. This can be partially attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic because many people no longer feel comfortable going to hospitals and would rather receive treatment from the comfort of their own homes. In this sense, home care can take many different forms. However, the unprecedented reliance on home care to treat and support people outside of the hospitals brings up the question of whether home healthcare is merely a trend incited by the pandemic or if it is a shift that reflects multiple factors, including the ageing demographic.
The European Commission has not only acknowledged this rise in home healthcare, but it has perhaps even provided an answer to this question. It was recently announced that the Commission intends to publish a European Care Strategy in the coming year. This strategy shall be focused on the provision of care that encompasses a life-long and holistic approach. The Care Strategy, itself, will not be solely focused on the provision of home or long-term care. Nonetheless, while it remains unclear as to how the Strategy will encompass all of these elements, and to what extent it intends to address the intricacies of home healthcare, it will be published alongside a proposal for a Council Recommendation on long-term care.
This seems to solidify the Commission’s stance that the rise in home healthcare is a noticeable shift in healthcare systems throughout Europe and not a trend that will disappear in the aftermath of the pandemic. Also, in addition to its life-long approach, the European Care Strategy is anticipated to address both the formal and informal provision of health and long-term care across the Union. By introducing the possibility of legislation that would support both formal and informal carers, the Commission provides a framework for home healthcare to increase. Furthermore, the Strategy that the Commission intends to come forward with, has the potential to create a support structure for those that wish to take care of the elderly in an informal capacity. This would then include care from relatives.
To some extent this is speculative, and we need to wait for more details to come forth on the specificities of the European Care Strategy. However, it is clear that the ageing demographic in Europe, coupled with the strain on healthcare that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, has clearly made its mark on the landscape of European healthcare. The Commission has placed its bet: home care will only become more prevalent in the years to come.