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Feature Geriatric Care

Covid-19: the precarious position of Spain’s nursing homes

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1554 (Published 20 April 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m1554

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  1. Aser García Rada
  1. Madrid
  1. alphaborealis{at}hotmail.com

In Spain, the country with the most coronavirus cases in Europe, the impact of the outbreak in nursing homes is having a dramatic and tragic effect, reports Aser García Rada

More than 10 000 older people in Spain have died in the covid-19 pandemic, while thousands of others remain isolated—and this is a best estimate, as experts suspect that the true figure is worse. As official statistics on cases and deaths continue to climb at an alarming rate, nursing homes have been a blind spot for a country that ranks third in the world for covid-19 deaths.

Spain lacks precise data from its autonomous administrative communities. Official numbers of cases and deaths do not always include people who were suspected of having the infection before death but were not tested. This includes those who died in health facilities or at home, as well as the vast majority of those who perished in nursing homes.1

Radiotelevisión Española (RTVE), the state owned public Spanish radio and television corporation, estimates that at least 10 719 people have died as of 16 April with covid-19 or similar symptoms in nursing homes throughout Spain, equal to half of the country’s official death toll. Most of these have been in nursing homes in the autonomous communities of Madrid, Catalonia, and Castile and León.2

The branch of the Spanish armed forces responsible for providing disaster relief (Unidad Militar de Emergencias; UME) has been drafted in to help disinfect residential nursing homes. The defence minister, Margarita Robles, said at a press conference that the UME had found “seniors in a state of complete abandonment, when not directly dead in their beds.” In several regions prosecutors have opened investigations looking for evidence of negligence.

Pere Godoy, president of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology, told The BMJ that nursing homes …

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