5 March 2013 – Health First Europe attended the European Confederation of Care Home Organisations (E.C.H.O.) event in the European Parliament which aimed to raise awareness about the key role care homes play in healthcare as well as the opportunities that exist for economic development by investing in care homes throughout the EU. The event brought together a variety of EU and Member State health stakeholders to discuss the rising demand for dependent care in Europe and the challenges for meeting the needs of 30 million dependent people in the coming years.

Providing a scope for the debate, MEP Roberta Angelilli (EPP, Italy) reinforced the fundamental guarantee that all EU citizens have to healthcare under the EU Charter and highlighted the value of the healthcare sector for European growth and jobs.  Reminding the participants that 2012 was the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity and Solidarity Between Generations, she also reiterated the need to focus on prevention so as to allow elderly individuals to remain independent for as long as possible. Ms. Angelilli’s colleague in the Parliament, MEP Licia Ronzulli (EPP, Italy) reinforced the idea that healthcare should not be thought of as an expense, but rather an investment and suggested that “there is a huge opportunity for economic development in the care home sector.” MEP Andrea Cozzolino (S&D, Italy) agreed and discussed the commitment of the EU institutions to meet the challenges of the ageing population through various initiatives such as the Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, use of structural funds for infrastructure development and research within the next framework programme Horizon 2020.

Though the EU has recognised the challenge of ageing for healthcare systems, Mr. Alberto Marchiori from the EU Politics Delegation of Confcommercio Imprese per L’Italia, gave greater context to the actual challenge faced to provide care to elderly, dependent persons.  Not only is there a shift from care away from the family, he explained that currently care homes are “trying to meet the needs of 20 million elderly people” which is growing all the time.  President of E.C.H.O, Mr. Alberto De Santis, provided further detail regarding the role of care homes in caring for the most vulnerable people.  Looking positively on the fact that people live longer, he proposed “ageing is a sign of well-being in the population, but it means additional needs and has impacts on the costs of services.”  He also highlighted the importance of innovation to reach citizens in needs (whether that be in public administration or infrastructure). Building on Mr. De Santis, Mr. Alberto Echevarria, Secretary General of E.C.H.O., gave specific statistics on the challenges and opportunities for the care home sector. He provided startling statistics:

  • The older the people, the more dependent, and more than 26% of people over 75 are dependent
  • By 2040, 30% of the European population will be over the age of 65
  • There are now 20 million dependent individuals, (4% of the actual population) and only 3.5 million beds available for those individuals

Mr. Echeverria went on to describe the goals of E.C.H.O. for not only meeting the needs for future care, but also the potential achievements of the industry in terms of job creation and public deficit reduction. The industry aims to have a ratio of 6,000 care industry beds for every million people which equates to building 500,000 new beds at a cost to the industry of €30 million.  Such expansion will result in 350,000 new jobs, created in the EU, staying in the EU.  He ended by stating, “The care sector provides a real strategic opportunity for economic growth in terms of reducing public debt, stimulating the economy and creating jobs.”

Overall, the debate clearly outlined the challenges of an ageing population, specifically in terms of caring for the most vulnerable. The care home industry emphasised the role it plays in a complex system where we often forget about the people most in need of care and showcased how care homes can contribute to not only supporting dependent people, but also supporting growth and jobs throughout the European economy.