Lack of data let down UK aged care response: international COVID lessons learnt – Ireland expands home care services by 25%

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The ‘International Collaboration of Peak Associations in the new world of aged services’ session at LASA’s Ten Days of Congress on Tuesday has confirmed Australia is not alone in the challenges that its aged care sector has faced during COVID – with some fascinating insights.

In a 50-minute session led by DCM Institute’s own Director of Industry Engagement and Chair of the Washington-based Global Ageing Network (GAN), Judy Martin, representatives from the UK, United States, Europe and Ireland discussed the respective challenges their countries had faced on dealing with the pandemic – and there was a startling similarity with the Australian experience.

Lack of data held back aged care response

Vic Rayner, the CEO of England’s National Care Forum, said UK providers’ biggest learning was the lack of data available on the aged care sector – not only to Government, media and the public but also to the sector itself.

“That’s been a really important learning point,” she stated, referring to the old saying ‘treasure what you measure’.

With more data obtained on infections in aged care, the Government has now shifted its focus to the sector, she added.

Residents dying of a “broken heart”

Both Jiry Horecky, the Executive Director of the Czech Republic Peak Association and President of the European Ageing Network (EAN), and Katie Smith Sloan, the Executive Director of GAN/Leading Age Services USA, said the experience had shown that locking down aged care homes often resulted in more harm.

Despite the Czech Republic now facing a second wave of the virus in 20% of its homes, Jiry said providers would never again isolate the elderly to protect them, citing the damage to the mental health of residents.

Katie agreed, noting that several of her members said many residents died of COVID without contracting the virus because of the loneliness and isolation they experienced.

Spotlight on aged care an opportunity to advocate for reform

All of the panelists said they are now ‘going big’ to push for reform.

“What COVID has done is politicised social care in a way that hasn’t been there before,” Vic said.

While she said this is not something to be celebrated, her organisation now wants to capitalize on this attention to lobby UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to fulfil his commitment to fix the social care sector.

“We can’t let that reform agenda to slip away again,” she said.

Irelands expands home care services by 25% in six months

Joseph Musgrave, the CEO of Home and Community Care Ireland (HCCI), said his organisation had already taken action, putting forward a proposal in July for home care to be expanded.

They have now obtained a 25% increase in the Government’s Budget for home care services between now and April with hopes that this will be further expanded.

The panel also said they would also advocate on proper recognition for aged care workers including improved training, career pathways and pay.

In Ireland, HCCI has already established a taskforce aimed at delivering a better deal for carers which they hope will encourage the Government to “turn up to the dancefloor with us”, Joseph said.

Aged care ripe for transformation

All also argued passionately for the need to make the most of the current spotlight on aged care in light of COVID.

“We have established our legitimacy as an important and trusted voice for the people we represent,” said Katie. “We can’t squander that.”

Joseph added that this process of reform should be as transformative for the sector as the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was for banks.

“We need to mobilise and start to drive local and global change,” he concluded.

With the sector here about to embark on its own media campaign, it would seem change is in the wind.