By Keith Begg
Since early summer, the Swedish government, and the Swedish Public Health Authority (FHM) have projected to the world that the Swedish health care system never buckled in the face of the worst pandemic in living memory. But what is rarely mentioned are the thousands that were denied health care on the grounds of age and/or underlying conditions. The health care system continued to function but at the expense of the elderly, the vast majority of whom were never admitted to hospital for treatment, but instead left to die in elderly care homes that were devoid of life-saving oxygen.
On June 30, the Swedish government appointed a Corona Commission to evaluate the measures taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Sweden. On 15 December. the Commission submitted a long-awaited first interim report on the treatment of the elderly during the pandemic.The Commission directed scathing criticism towards the Swedish Government and the Swedish Public Health Authority (FHM) stating that they failed to sufficiently protect the elderly and were ultimately responsible for the pandemic`s effects on the country.
The interim report mentioned that Sweden`s handling of the COVID-19 crisis had major shortcomings and that the authorities, especially the FHM, proved unprepared and ill-equipped to respond to the pandemic.
The Head of the Commission Mats Helin stated that “the blame for these structural shortcomings in Sweden could be placed on several authorities and organizations.”
Mr. Helin also stressed that it was the job of the Swedish government to govern the country and therefore the ultimate responsibility rests with the government.
“The government should have taken such measures that they cured these shortcomings, and that elderly care would then have been better equipped for the pandemic.”
The report also criticizes the fact that the government and the authorities’ measures to protect the elderly came far too late and that in many cases they were wholly insufficient. As an example, it took an unreasonably length of time to sanction or even consider elderly care-homes’ needs for the provision of protective equipment for its staff and residents.
Most care homes were never provided with even basic PPE, such as masks. Care home staff were often told not to use them as it contravened the FHMs guidelines on the use of oral protection.
In an article published Svenska Dagbladet on March 30, Sweden’s State Epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell made an announcement that the FHM
“No longer recommends that healthcare professionals use oral or arm protection in contact with corona patients”.
Most care home staff also worked on low paid, zero-hour contracts, and were not entitled to social welfare provisions if they reported sick for work. In addition, criticism was directed at the lack of clear guidelines.
This is exemplified by the order to forbid visitors to special accommodations such as care-homes that came far too late according to the Commission and was only introduced on 1 April, long after Italy, Spain, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and a host of other countries had gone into lockdown. But even after these restrictions were introduced, they were routinely broken.
On a trip to see his mother in the city of Gävle, Cristian Pettersson witnessed that none of the staff were wearing PPE or masks, and people were entering and exiting the premises at will. Mr. Patterson’s intentions were to wave to his mother through the window and when he confronted the staff for the infringements he witnessed, he was casually told that they were following the FHMs recommendations.
While the Commission’s assessment was welcomed it came as little comfort to the families who lost their loved ones and those whose sick relatives were placed at the bottom of the ladder when it came to prioritization when accessing healthcare.
Since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Sweden at the end of January, the country failed to prepare for the onslaught of a deadly virus. Many countries scrambled to acquire testing equipment and PPE to prepare their health services after witnessing how the pandemic had gained such a stranglehold in Italy.
Sweden missed the boat and up until June had one of the lowest testing rates in the OECD, because it simply could not access testing kits in bulk. When COVID-19 hit Sweden`s shores in March, the government and the health authority were on the back foot and made unethical decisions when it came to protecting the most vulnerable in society.
The government`s inaction meant that the elderly became expendable due to lack of planning and incompetence. Heinous policies would be drafted that would ensure that thousands of elderly patients that contracted COVID-19 would be treated with a shot of morphine, a breathing inhibitor, as the majority of care homes in Sweden were devoid of oxygen.
In a procured letter, from the region of Västra Götaland, it was discovered that denying the elderly oxygen in favour of palliative care through morphine and/or benzos was the policy of many of Sweden`s regions. The fourth paragraph of the letter translates as follows:
“In the guidelines from the National Board of Health and Welfare treatment with oxygen is included for patients with hypoxia. Elderly care facilities such as sheltered housing and other forms of residential care (särskilt boende) in the Region of Västra Götaland and in other Swedish provinces are as a rule not equipped to provide oxygen therapy. We, therefore, recommend primarily pharmacological treatment over oxygen therapy in case of dyspnoea”.
On 29 September, Sverige Radio (Ekot) did a harrowing interview with relatives who were not consulted regarding the treatment of their elderly loved ones. Elderly COVID-19 patients were given end-of-life-care without the permission of relatives or understanding what the treatment entailed nor their implications.
A woman writes in the report about her now-dead mother:
“The decision to give our mother palliative care that included morphine was made over our mother and us children’s heads. This was never anchored in any relative at all.”
Another woman tells Ekot:
“We relatives were not contacted immediately when mother fell ill. It was blamed that the accommodation did not have our telephone numbers. We were also not informed that the doctor had decided on so-called palliative care. “
When Jan Gunnelin`s father fell ill with COVID-19 he was contacted by the health service as his father`s condition deteriorated. But Jan did not understand the implications of what palliative care meant. This occurred in the region of Dälarna and they responded with a letter to Jan apologizing that it was not made clear enough to him.
I’m pretty sure and feel that my father would not have had to die at this time if he had received the right help and the right care in time. And that’s what makes me sad. I think I lost my dad too soon — Jan Gunnelin.
Experienced researcher Ingmar Skoog, a Professor of Epidemiological Psychiatry at the University of Gothenburg, had a strong reaction to Ekot’s (Radio Sverige) revelations:
“It is completely outside all rules, both human and legal. You must do this in consultation with relatives. It’s like crazy, this is against all the rules. So, I’m very upset when I hear these things. This should not happen”- Ingmar Skoog.
As the number of new cases rose drastically in Sweden at the end of October, the FHM allowed relatives to visit elderly care homes. In a country that had no tracing, tracking, or enforced quarantine measures in place this proved to be a deadly mistake. This mistake was compounded by the fact that despite 70+ meritorious research papers on the effectiveness of masks, the FHM still refused to mandate them. The only provision to date is a recommendation to wear masks on public transport between the hours of 7–9 am and 16–18 pm only on weekdays which was introduced on 7 January.
The Swedish Government and the Swedish Public Health Authority have played Russian Roulette with the lives of its elderly citizens.In a news article published by Expressen on 25 September, it was reported that furniture and other heavy objects had been used repeatedly to block doors to prevent elderly residents in care homes from leaving, according to several reports to the Swedish Health and Care Inspectorate, the IVO. One of the complainants who wished to remain anonymous expressed her dismay at how her sister who suffered with dementia was treated.
“She was going out into the corridor and could not open the door. And then she says “but they have put a sofa behind my door. That’s why I could not open the door all day ”. We thought it was awful, it was terrible, she tells the radio.”
According to a survey produced by IVO, they have received information of up to 15 cases where elderly residents in nursing homes have been forcibly locked up during the pandemic. In Borås a town in the west of Sweden it was reported that employees forcibly locked in their elderly residents in their care often using sofas and heavy items to prevent them from leaving
The Swedish government and the Swedish Public Health Authority have thrown the elderly under a bus when it comes to their protection and treatment during the pandemic. In most European countries where the elderly are seen as national treasures, having fought wars, rebuilt cities, and set the foundation blocks for future generations; in Sweden, they are treated as criminals receiving death sentences and are forcibly locked up.
Keith Begg is the founder of Media Watchdogs of Sweden (MEWAS).
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of Foreign Policy News.