Vulnerable older people

The coronavirus pandemic is fatally affecting the elderly and those of any age who are healthily compromised by major diseases.

This happens not only in epidemics but in all natural disasters, situations of war, famine etc. in which the older generation is decimated and sometimes disappears. In these circumstances, priority is given, of course, to children and pregnant women, while on many occasions the elderly are an “invisible group”, as the Global NGO Forum on Ageing said in 2002. This is not the case, as the daily news is dramatic and everyone is aware of the consequences of the disaster of the elderly.

But there is a suspicion, backed up by data from the recent report by the Carlos III Institute of Health, that the shocking figures for deaths that are routinely given to us every day are lower than the real ones. This is confirmed by many health professionals. Officially, deaths from coronaviruses are considered to have occurred when the tests are positive. But many patients who die at home or in nursing homes are not tested.

Remember this catastrophe, which occurred with the tremendous heat wave of 2003. In France, 15,000 deaths were caused, mostly among the elderly. In Spain, only 141 were reported, because we were naturally more used to high temperatures. When the INE compared the actual data with those recorded in previous years, it was discovered that there had been a deviation of more than 6,000 deaths among older people in the month of the event. The heat wave did affect Spanish elderly persons. As in the current case, the deficient information came from the Autonomous Communities.

Once again, we can see the strategic failure of the Spanish health care organisation, which has left a minimal essential central structure, as we have now seen. There is no accurate and rapid information on what is happening, there is no transparency, there are no basic technicians that the ministry always had or who have lost their functions, nor are there scientific committees to advise, and if they advise they are ignored; the capacity to manage as we have seen in the supply of medical material and equipment is disastrous. We believe that the situation is so disturbing that our politicians will have to react when the crisis is over. It is not a question of going against the State of Autonomies, but rather of completing what it lacks, complying with laws such as the 2003 Quality and Cohesion of the Health System or creating new ones, but rather strengthening the apex of the system so as not to be shipwrecked in the crises.

The vulnerability of older people is pathetic in the case of residential homes for the elderly. The death rate is difficult to assimilate, with contradictory figures that will require confirmation. We have always been in favour of “medicalising” homes and not just home replacement centres.  We expected something negative, not so disastrous, because it meant concentrated risk groups, but we were disconcerted by the lack of preventive action as soon as the seriousness of the pandemic became known. I think that the Unit’s system will also have to be reviewed and its funding increased, when we recover from this epidemic.

Eduardo Rodríguez Rovira

Honorary President of CEOMA (Confederación Española de Organizaciones de Mayores)