‘Government cannot cope with demand for long-term care’ – Justyne Caruana

Parliamentary secretary for the elderly insists that long-term care is not just the state’s responsibility but also that of patient’s relatives; dementia sufferers amount to 5% of all elderly.

Over 2,000 elderly people are currently waiting to be placed under a state-funded long-term care, but with the government’s financial limitations as well as the increasing demand due to the ageing population, parliamentary secretary for active ageing and the elderly Justyne Caruana has conceded that Malta cannot cope with the demand.

“There are currently at least 2,000 elderly people waiting to be placed under long-term care, some of whom have been on the waiting list since 2009. The government must build the equivalent of two St Vincent de Paule residences to cater for the demand,” Justyne Caruana said.

Hosted on the latest edition of Reporter, the parliamentary secretary explained that Malta’s ageing population has not only brought into question the government’s inability to meet the increasing demand for long term care, but has also brought to light the issue of the pension system’s sustainability, active ageing, and the elderly’s economic participation.

A demographic phenomenon caused by a higher life expectancy and decreases in Malta’s mortality and fertility rates, the ageing of the Maltese population has been dubbed as an impending time bomb that would eventually see Malta’s elderly outnumber children.

Statistically, Malta’s life expectancy of 82-years-old is among the highest in Europe, while at present one out of nine is over the age of 60, and by 2050 it will be one in five, Dr Marvin Formosa, a gerontology lecturer at the University of Malta said while hosted on TVM’s Reporter.

“Notwithstanding the government’s health sector, and its commitment on increasing the beds by 300 every year, the stark reality is that the demand for long-term care is increasing,” Justyne Caruana said.

“Beds are allocated according to priority and the level of dependence of the person, and not according to how much the person has been waiting for. There is not enough money for the government to cope with the demand, so the inclusion of private hospitals is of paramount importance.”

But Caruana, as well as her Nationalist counterpart Mario Galea, have issued a stark warning: The elderly’s long-term care is not just the state’s responsibility, but conversely, relatives must shoulder their responsibility.

“It is not just the responsibility of the state. There is this incorrect perception that as soon as an elderly person is in need of long-term care, he or she becomes the state’s problem. The relatives must shoulder the responsibility too,” PN spokesperson for the elderly said.

Galea also explained that the bed shortage in elderly homes also spills to Mater Dei, as currently some patients stay at Mater Dei despite being discharged – all this because they have no place for long term care.

Asked by host Saviour Balzan whether increasing Malta’s retirement age is the only way on making the pension system sustainable, Galea argued that this is not the only solution, claiming that it is not opportune to give his personal opinion until discussions are carried out – a stark contrast to parliamentary secretary Justyne Caruana who insisted that the government will not increase the retirement age.

Meanwhile, gerontology lecturer Marvin Formosa explained that currently, 6,000 persons are suffering from dementia in Malta, a figure which  amounts to 5% of all the elderly.

“Dementia sufferers will explode in ten years’ time. We are not yet prepared to tackle this increase, carers, nurses are still undergoing training. The cost to care for dementia will eventually surpass the cost spent on treating cancer.”