Loulé Mayor Vítor Aleixo and Chris Sainty, British Ambassador to Portugal
Loulé Mayor Vítor Aleixo and Chris Sainty, British Ambassador to Portugal

Active ageing “a priority for Portugal and UK”

Chris Sainty, the British Ambassador to Portugal, was invited last week to visit Loulé’s new Centre of Active Ageing Skills (CCEA) which was inaugurated in April. At the event, Sainty spoke about how active ageing is a matter that the governments of both Portugal and the UK are treating as a priority.

“Since 2018, healthy ageing has been one of society’s four main challenges. Over the past five years, the British Embassy has sought to establish a dialogue between the two countries on this shared priority. Therefore, it is a doubled pleasure to be here and witness the progress that your town has made in this field,” Sainty said.

In his speech, the ambassador also revealed that a study had been commissioned from the International Longevity Research Centre, capable of “looking beyond the challenges, mapping economic and social opportunities that the significant increase in life expectancy in recent decades has opened up for us.

“The contribution of older people is already quite significant, as workers, consumers, informal caregivers, or volunteers. The central question of the study is how we can maximise this economic and social dividend. I hope that we can count on the help of Loulé, the CCEA, and the National Ageing Observatory (in Alte) to deepen the dialogue between the two countries and promote healthy ageing in our populations,” he added.
But how far is Portugal from truly becoming a country that promotes active ageing?

hris Sainty, British Ambassador to Portugal
hris Sainty, British Ambassador to Portugal

Specialists agree that the numbers are not positive, although Portugal is already taking the first steps to become the first European country to develop a National Action Plan for Active Ageing.

After the establishment of the Algarve Active Ageing – Center of Reference for Active and Healthy Ageing and the inauguration of the National Ageing Observatory in Alte, the CCEA was launched in April, the only one of its kind in the country. It is still located in temporary premises at the business incubator in Loulé.

A “cluster” for active ageing has thus been created in the municipality, which, according to Nuno Marques, a cardiologist and director of the CCEA, could not have come at a better time.

“We are the European Union country that is experiencing the fastest ageing. We need to take into account that not only are we one of the oldest (populations), but we are also experiencing one of the fastest ageing processes. The data shows that life expectancy in Portugal is good, but we age poorly.

“In terms of years of quality of life, we are far from the best European countries. Therefore, the creation of a CCEA with this cross-cutting approach is a milestone that has been sought for a long time and was immediately defined as a priority in the Ministry of Labour, Solidarity, and Social Security,” said Marques during his speech on Thursday, September 28.

Loulé Mayor Vítor Aleixo and Chris Sainty, British Ambassador to Portugal
Loulé Mayor Vítor Aleixo and Chris Sainty, British Ambassador to Portugal

CCEA to coordinate national plan

After announcing a new headquarters for the CCEA, with construction procedures set to begin soon, Marques also revealed that, in addition to training and capacity-building for professional caregivers, the CCEA will coordinate the National Action Plan for Active Ageing, as well as all national and international activities related to this area.

“I would say that it will be the main political decision-making centre in the country in this sector,” he stated. Although he left specific details for an official government announcement, the doctor assured that the plan is already in the “final stage of legislative approval”.

In practice, this initiative will “allow us to reduce mortality, but, above all, reduce dependence because we will act in fundamental areas, which are the main limitations for the elderly: cardiovascular health, skeletal health, mental health, oncology, and musculoskeletal health,” Marques said.

Chris Sainty, British Ambassador to Portugal
Chris Sainty, British Ambassador to Portugal

Foreign examples

The CCEA boss said that “integrated and long-term care” will be one of the areas that the centre will focus on, promising to implement a “reform”.

“The quality of care and new financing models are being reviewed,” he said, explaining that, up until now, Portugal has placed its elderly in either home care or Residential Structures for the Elderly (ERPI). “We increasingly need to explore other tested models and diversify the response. For example, the UK has several collaborative housing arrangements that work very well. They also have co-housing that works. The Nordic countries are also examples. We will see what they do and bring it here so that the user can choose what suits their condition best. This is essential, and we need these opportunities,” he said.

Another measure to be implemented is related to independent living, which involves the creation of teams that identify individuals with greater difficulty on the ground, followed by intervention. “This will be done at the national level, with a single platform funded by municipalities. It is an excellent measure, and I hope that all municipalities submit their applications,” Marques announced.

Also under discussion is the possibility of using funds allocated by the Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP) to adapt homes to create safe environments for the elderly.

For both formal and informal caregivers, further CCEA centres will be created “in all districts of the country so that we have local trainers for those in need of training. We expect more than 10,000 trainees per year. This is my goal for 2024, and I intend to exceed it in the following years,” Marques said.

Loulé Mayor Vítor Aleixo also attended the event and guaranteed that the municipality is “committed” to these same goals, having also taken advantage of the British Ambassador’s presence to highlight the substantial number of UK citizens living in Loulé.

“Around 22% of our resident population is foreign and many are UK citizens who are already part of our community,” said the mayor.

 Original article written by Maria Simiris for Barlavento newspaper