Florien Kruse, Inger Abma, Patrick Jeurissen (Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, Netherlands).
When we wrote our first report on the impact of COVID-19 on the Dutch long-term care sector, at the end of March, barely any information was available. At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the acute care sector overshadowed the long-term care sector. Now long-term care is receiving much more attention, from both policymakers and the media. Much more also has been done to stop the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.
Initially, the number of deaths in nursing homes lagged behind the national trend. But at the beginning of April, the number of deaths peaked significantly. Currently, the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes is declining. The number of deaths in nursing homes have almost returned to pre-crisis levels. Accordingly, the government is taking its first steps towards relaxing the ban on visitors to nursing homes, based on a phased approach.
Steps have been taken to improve the situation in the long-term care sector. Nurses and carers can apply for personal protective equipment (PPE) and can access testing. Informal care givers are also now eligible for access to PPE and testing. And several initiatives have begun to improve our knowledge about how COVID-19 has spread, and is spreading, in the long-term care sector.
However, several lessons can be learned from the impact of COVID-19 on the Dutch long-term care sector. In particular, many long-term care professionals have experienced difficulties accessing PPE or are receiving PPE that does not meet health and safety standards. In addition, there are still gaps in our knowledge about COVID-19 in the long-term care sector. For example, there seem to be no records of the infection rate and mortality rate due to COVID-19 among long-term care personnel. This is especially important now that the nursing home visitor ban is gradually being lifted.
The long-term care sector in The Netherlands seems to be on the right track. But we should protect the long-term care sector from slipping through the cracks (again) if the pace of COVID-19 picks up again. This is especially important now The Netherlands starts to relax lockdown measures.