COVID-19 and the Long-Term Care system in Poland

Structural characteristics of the LTC system, impact of the pandemic, measures adopted and new reforms

This country profile contains a section of the LTCcovid International Living Report on COVID-19 Long-Term Care that brings together information on the experience of the long-term care sector (focussing on people who use and provide care) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Poland, as well as description of the system and of new reforms. The LTCcovid Living report is updated and expanded over time, as experts on long-term care add new contributions. This profile also provides links to research projects on COVID-19 and long-term care, to key reports, and lists key experts on the impacts of COVID-19 on the long-term care sector in Poland.

Experts on COVID-19 and long-term care in Poland that have contributed to this report:

Joanna Marczak and Agnieszka Sowa-Kofta

Living report: COVID-19 and the Long-Term Care system in Poland

PART 1 – Long-Term Care System characteristics and preparedness
  • 1.01. Population size and ageing context
    Poland has one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the European Union (EU): by 2060, the proportion of the population aged 65–79 is expected to double and the proportion of the population aged 80+ is expected to triple (source: Poland Country Report).
  • 1.02. Brief description of the Long-Term Care system

    By law and by tradition, families are primarily responsible for care provision, with social institutions’ intervening when families are incapable of undertaking adequate care measures and LTC is provided mostly by unpaid carers in Poland. Some home care as well as residential care services are however also available through health and social care sector and more recently day care centres have gained prominence in providing support for people with LTC needs (source: Poland Country Report).

    The rate of long-term care beds in Poland is not only low and their geographical distribution is uneven. In 2019, nearly one-fifth of counties had no access to long-term residential care. About 2.7 % of older people are in institutional care settings and 3.4 % use home care services. Some families draw on migrant carers, mostly from Ukraine, who tend to provide round-the-clock care (source: Ageing policies – access to services in different EU Member States).

  • 1.03. Long-term care financing arrangements and coverage

    Public LTC expenditure in Poland was estimated to represent 0.5% of Gross Domestic Product in 2016 (source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/economy-finance/ip079_en.pdf). Public care for dependent older people is provided through health care sector, which includes cases of dependency or palliative care requiring a range of medical and rehabilitation services, and the social care sector, which includes care for dependent older people who are in a socially difficult situation (i.e. those who live alone, come from dysfunctional families, or are poor). Care for older dependent people is predominantly a family domain in Poland. In most cases, caregivers are family members who – in case of care for older dependent people – receive little or no financial remuneration for the care provided. In wealthier households, family carers may be supported by immigrants employed informally (source: Poland Country (filesusr.com).

  • 1.05. Quality and regulation in Long-term care

    There is no formal quality framework regarding LTC services in particular, though various regulations address the presence of goal and process-oriented measures with respect to quality assurance separately in the healthcare and social sector. In the social sector, standards are set particularly in respect to residential care, covering minimum standards of the room size, access to toilets and kitchen, sanitation requirements, rooms furnishings and equipment, food as well as minimal staff requirements. Community day care services are standardised within dedicated programmes, such as ‘Senior+’ where minimum requirements regarding facilities and staff are set. Standards in home care are set covering broadly the types of services available and staff qualifications (source: Publications catalogue – Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion – European Commission (europa.eu).

  • 1.06. Approach to care provision, including sector of ownership

    LTC services in Poland are provided by both private and public providers. The former includes unpaid carers and a grey zone (including immigrant carers) as well as non-for profit and for-profit residential care providers. Non-governmental organizations are active in the provision of care for older people – in supporting hospitals, care, and nursing facilities (source: CEQUA Poland Country Report).

  • 1.07. Care coordination and personalization

    LTC in Poland is organised by national health care and local social services. The coordination of activities between sectors has been hampered by different governance priorities. The health sector concentrates on the long-term goals formulated in the National Health Programme. In the social services sector, ‘senior policy’ was formulated, aimed at the social activation (e.g. day care facilities) and social integration of older people (source: Poland Country Report).

  • 1.08. Information and monitoring systems 

    The Law on Older Persons, introduced in 2015, requires that the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Poland must provide annual information on the situation of older people (60+) regarding, among other things,  their health status, access to healthcare and long-term care services. The report also contains information about the implementation of the tasks of local governments in providing support for older people. The information is publicly available on the website of the Ministry of Family and Social Policy and the Central Statistical Office (source: Ageing policies – access to services in different EU Member States).

  • 1.10. Community-based care infrastructure

    Community services include home-based care comprised of nursing services provided through the health sector and services provided through the social sector. Home care services cover assistance with everyday activities, personal hygiene, tasks related to housework, nursing (if prescribed by a physician), and support in social networking. Specialist home care is adjusted to the specific medical and rehabilitation needs of the recipients, and services are provided by qualified personnel, such as physiotherapists. An important and recently developing type of care is day care centres offering leisure time activities for older people and people with disabilities. Activities ranging from education, culture, to excursions are provided for persons living at home, whose family members are not able to provide care because of work responsibilities, during working hours (source: Poland Country Report).

  • 1.11. Workforce conditions: pay, employment conditions, qualification levels, shortages

    LTC employment is low compared to other EU countries, namely in 2016 there were 0.5 LTC workers per 100 older people (EU-27 average was 3.8). There are inequalities in working conditions and wages between the healthcare and the social sector. The number of carers is increasing, however the country is experiencing ageing of LTC staff will put additional pressure on ensuring adequate staffing levels (source: Publications catalogue – Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion – European Commission (europa.eu).

  • 1.14 Pandemic preparedness of the Long-term care sector

    The country was poorly prepared to deal with the pandemic, moreover, the shortfalls of the LTC system became more visible during the pandemic (e.g. limited financial resources for LTC system, poor access to tests, PPI, problems with isolating infected individuals (sources: Alert Zdrowotny 2; Alert Zdrowotny 3).

PART 2 – Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people who use and provide Long Term Care
PART 3 – Measures adopted to minimise the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people who use and provide Long-Term Care
  • 3.02. Governance of the Long-Term Care sector's pandemic response

    The decentralization of authority has had negative consequences for pandemic response (particularly during the first wave of the pandemic), with local authorities responsible for social welfare homes, and the split between healthcare and social sector had a negative impact on responding to the threat quickly and comprehensively. In case of social welfare homes, the management of the crisis depended on the ability of the local authorities and managers to mobilize the resources and led to geographical differences in pandemic response (sources:  Responding to the Covid19 in residential long-term care in Poland ; ESPN Flash Report 2020/43).

  • 3.02.02. Measures to improve coordination between Health and Social Care in response to the pandemic

    At the onset of the pandemic, significant issues were reported relating to lack of coordination between health and social care which impaired pandemic response.  Recommendations issued by experts to address shortages in LTC sector include improved coordination between health and social care and regulation (source: ESPN Flash Report 2020/43).

  • 3.02.03. Measures to support, facilitate and compensate for disruptions to access to care

    The government promoted volunteering services in the community and neighbourhood to support older people with care needs in household activities or with groceries, among others (source: Ageing policies – access to services in different EU Member States).

  • 3.04. Financial measures to support users and providers of Long-Term Care

    Providers of residential care faced financial shortages for a variety of reasons (e.g. additional costs of PPE, increasing prices of hygienic/cleaning products, food during pandemic, increasing costs of staff (both wages and food) who resided in the homes during quarantine). Additional money from the national and local governments partly addressed the financial challenges,  NGOs, firms’ as well as private donations were also invaluable in addressing financial gaps, however residential care providers were increasingly considering increasing costs for residents (source: Domy-pomocy-spolecznej-w-dobie-pandemii-19-11.pdf (hfhr.pl).

    During the pandemic, the central government put additional financial resources for equipping LTC facilities. The Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Affairs decided to devote an additional 20 million z? (ca. €4.7 million) to addressing protection needs in social welfare homes. These resources have been distributed to social welfare homes by the regional authorities, and have been used to support investments in equipment, rearrange facilities according to the sanitary guidelines, and to improve access to protection and preventive measures (masks, gloves, etc.). In the healthcare sector, all financial needs related to COVID-19 are financed from the central budget. The pandemic highlighted the underfunded nature of the LTC system and experts highlight the need for increased payments for services (source: ESPN Flash Report 2020/43). 

  • 3.06. Support for care sector staff and measures to ensure workforce availability 

    During the pandemic, the central government increased the remuneration of medical and nursing staff at in LTC sector, there was also an increase in sickness benefit of medical and care employees during quarantine and isolation in response to high infection risk they face in every-day work ( (source: Ageing policies – access to services in different EU Member States). To address workforce challenges which were brought to attention during the pandemic, experts recommended investment in the training and employment of nursing and care staff. For example, it was recommended that additional educational activities should be offered to trainees (e.g. trainee nurses in LTC), taking into account the apprenticeship of foreign workers. For current employees, it was recommended that training is provided regarding the application of new technologies in LTC sector, as well training to assure the necessary minimum knowledge in the field of psychology, public health (disease prevention), medicine and digitization. Recommendations were also issued to revise the standards, working conditions and increasing wages in LTC sector, to incentivise and address workforce shortages in LTC sector (source: Alert Zdrowotny 3).

    In response to the pandemic, local authorities introduced regulations restricting employment of LTC staff to a single facility, and made efforts to enable isolation of staff and residents within the facility (source: ESPN Flash Report 2020/43).

  • 3.07.03. Care homes: visiting and unpaid carer policies

    In the spring of 2020, the recommendations of the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy included recommendations concerning the limitation of visits to and admission to Nursing Homes by unauthorized persons, as well as leaving the facilities by residents. In most local municipalities visiting bans had been introduced, in some areas visitors had been subjected to rapid testing before meeting residents or meetings were held only outdoors, with sanitary regimes applied. Due to the limitation of real contacts, care homes have been obliged to ensure the possibility of maintaining relationships with relatives via telephone or the Internet. However, in the face of the limited staff there were problems in ensuring contact. Ban on leaving institutions posed additional problems, and some local policy makers noted that there was no clear legal basis for restricting the rights of home residents to leave the premises (source: Domy-pomocy-spolecznej-w-dobie-pandemii-19-11.pdf (hfhr.pl).

  • 3.09. Access to Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in the Long-Term Care sector

    Lack of PPE in care homes has been a challenge, partly addressed by donations from private companies, NGOs and individuals donors. Lack of procedures for coordinated/joint purchases of PPE equipment for several care homes made it harder for individual care home facilities to get adequate PPE supplies (sources: Domy-pomocy-spolecznej-w-dobie-pandemii-19-11.pdfLong-term care report – Publications Office of the EU).

  • 3.10. Use of technology to compensate for difficulties accessing in-person care

    The government introduced online or telephone medical consultations when feasible to compensate for lack of face to face consultations as well as to contain spread of infections (source: Ageing policies – access to services in different EU Member States).

  • 3.11. Vaccination policies for people using and providing Long-Term Care

    Vaccination priority was given to older people, residents of long-term care facilities, medical and care personnel, and groups facing the risk of severe development of the disease due to the existence of other health risks (e.g. cancer). By mid-June 2021, over 60% of the people age 60 + received at least one dose of the vaccine, a higher share of people aged 70-79 were vaccinated (about 78%) than those aged 80+ (just under 60%) (source: Ageing policies – access to services in different EU Member States; Szczepienie przeciwko COVID-19 Gov.pl).

PART 4 – Reforms to strengthen Long-Term Care systems and to improve preparedness for future pandemics and other emergencies
  • 4.02. Reforms to the Long-term care financing system

    In 2018, Poland implemented a programme that finances care services in rural areas and smaller towns, which are particularly prone to depopulation and ageing due to migration processes. Under the programme, local authorities may be granted a subsidy to enable homecare services.  In 2019 a cash benefit was introduced for adults who are unable to live independently. A definition of ‘inability to live independently’ was established, together with new assessment rules (source: Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion – European Commission).

  • 4.06. Reforms to improve support for unpaid carers

    In 2019, a programme entitled ‘Respite care’ (Opieka wytchnieniowa) was started in Poland to provide help for informal carers (source: EU: Long-term care report).

  • 4.13. Any other relevant Long-Term Care reforms

    Although in 2021 there are no major reforms planned to increase coherency of LTC sector, various efforts have been made over the past few years to strengthen LTC services in Poland. Since 2018, a programme ‘Care 75+’ (Opieka 75+) has been in place, supporting local authorities in rural areas and small towns financially to provide care services (rural areas and small towns are particularly prone to population ageing due to migration and have informal care deficits). In 2018, a complementary programme ‘Care services for people with  disabilities’ (Uslugi opiekuncze dla osób niepelnosprawnych), targeting people with disabilities under the age of 75 was introduced. Moreover, in 2019 a cash benefit was introduced for adults incapable of living independently. The benefit of PLN 500 (around EUR 119) is targeted at individuals with lower incomes, as a support measure in need for LTC. A definition of incapability to live independently with a new assessment for this purpose was implemented. Local governments have also also planning  to organise meals on wheels for older people or targeted social assistance benefits for acquiring meals (Posilek w domu i w szkole na lata 2019–2023) (source: Long-term care report – Publications Office of the EU (europa.eu).

    Moreover, in the aftermath of pandemic, the promotion of digital technologies has become one of the priority areas of the Activity+ programme, which was established in 2021 and is aimed at stimulating the social participation of older people (source: Ageing policies – access to services in different Member States (europa.eu).

Printable version of this country profile:

https://ltccovid.org/country/poland/

To cite this report (please add the date in which the document was accessed):

Marczak, J., Sowa-Kofta, A. COVID-19 and the Long-Term Care system in Poland. In: Comas-Herrera A., Marczak J., Byrd W., Lorenz-Dant K., Pharoah D. (editors) LTCcovid International Living report on COVID-19 and Long-Term Care. LTCcovid, Care Policy and Evaluation Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science. https://doi.org/10.21953/lse.mlre15e0u6s6


Ongoing research projects on COVID-19 and Long-Term Care in Poland:

https://ltccovid.org/completed-or-ongoing-research-projects-on-covid-19-and-long-term-care/?_country=poland

Acknowledgement and disclaimer:

This report has built on previous LTCcovid country reports and is supported by the Social Care COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery project, which is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme (NIHR202333) and by the International Long-Term Care Policy Network and the Care Policy and Evaluation Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the funders.

Copyright: LTCCovid and Care Policy and Evaluation Centre, LSE