Years of NHS Cuts and Privatisation Exposed

March 29, 2020

With Wolverhampton and the Black Country one of the worst affected areas of the UK for confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, the ongoing crisis has shone a light on the cronic underfunding of our NHS, and the chaos created by both privatisation and the “internal market”, introduced by New Labour and enthusiastically continued by the Tories up until the last few weeks.

Despite the heroic efforts of staff and goodwill shown by workers towards the NHS, it will need more than clapping to both deal with the present pandemic and create a health service that truly meets the needs of all. Here we reproduce a series of articles from The Socialist, the newspaper of The Socialist Party:

Nationalise production and research

Chris Thomas

“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded… test, test, test.” The advice of the director-general of the World Health Organisation for combatting coronavirus could not be clearer.

It’s a total scandal, therefore, that the government has basically ignored it, potentially putting thousands of lives at risk.

Last week an average of just 3,746 patients a day were tested, almost all patients who were already in hospital.

That compares with around 15,000 a day in South Korea, with results available within hours via text. Germany is carrying out 160,000 a week.

Here, desperately needed frontline health and care workers are self-isolating for days – possibly needlessly – because they can’t get access to a test to find out whether they have coronavirus or just a cold or normal flu. Some are not even ill, but have household members who are, and can’t get a test.

Consultant cardiologist Mark Gallagher, stuck at home with a temperature of 38°C, called this a “policy of surrender”. “They are abandoning the basic principles for dealing with an epidemic… test whenever possible, trace contacts and contain.”

It doesn’t take a genius to work out why this is happening. It has nothing to do with medical advice or strategy for fighting the virus.

Medical staff have confirmed that cuts, privatisation and total lack of preparation have led to a lack of testing kits and lab capacity in the NHS.

Not a problem if you have the money to pay for a private test, though. We’re hearing all the time about politicians, and the rich and famous, who have tested positive, while the nurse working in intensive care has no idea if they have Covid-19 or not.

The private Harley Street Clinic is selling home testing kits for £375 a shot – much in demand, the clinic says, by “lords, ladies and knights.” £2.5 million raked in – in just one week.

Boris Johnson says the government is “ramping up” testing to 25,000 a day. But it could take four weeks to reach this level.

That’s far too late! The supply of tests must be massively expanded now to guarantee a mass testing and tracing policy to save lives.

All private testing and processing facilities, as well as all other private healthcare resources, should also be immediately requisitioned and incorporated into the NHS.

We need a fully publicly funded, integrated and democratically run health service that puts the health and needs of the many before the profits of a few.

Jon Dale, secretary, Unite union Nottinghamshire NHS branch (personal capacity), writes:

Testing large numbers is critical to bringing outbreaks under control. All patients’ contacts, and health and care workers, need to know they have not become infected themselves and are passing the virus on.

A new virus – like Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes the disease Covid-19 – needs new tests. They can’t be taken off the shelf.

Small biotech companies employing 20-30 scientists are rapidly developing faster, more accurate tests. One now takes just 30 minutes and does not need large lab equipment, compared to two hours for existing tests.

But by the time these new tests have been trialled to ensure they work, it may be too late for this pandemic.

Private investment in these biotech companies between 2015 and 2019 was six times less than in companies researching treatments, where higher profits are hoped for.

Tara O’Toole, executive vice-president of the CIA’s non-profit venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, said it was a “market failure” that diagnostics were less valued than treatments. “We’re in a diagnostic renaissance from a technological point of view, and yet we find ourselves without adequate diagnostics yet again in a big outbreak.”

Large companies making diagnostic tests – like Thermo Fisher, worth about $110 billion – don’t invest in tests that may never be needed. They want guaranteed sales.

A socialist plan of production would combine laboratory research with modern purpose-built factories, prepared for new infectious disease outbreaks whenever they arose.

Public ownership and investment, not short-term profit-hunting, would save many lives.

Covid-19 hospital worker: when will they test staff?

An NHS health professional

When are they going to test frontline staff? This has been the question across the hospital all weekend – and is it any wonder? We feel we are being put in danger. Yes, we have personal protective equipment (PPE), but it’s being rationed.

In A&E, ‘query Covid-19’ patients walk down to X-ray wearing a thin surgical mask. A member of staff performs a chest X-ray with a yellow apron, mask and gloves.

When staff go up to the intensive care unit with the confirmed cases, we get the full gear – full sleeves, proper masks, hat and visor – with separate entrances in and out to decontaminate.

Colleagues from elsewhere in Europe say back home, PPE is worn with every patient, as the virus is in the community – but not here!

We are currently emptying out patients to the local Spire private hospital, and wards now stand empty ready for the influx – but do we have the staff to look after them? All departments have numbers of staff having to self-isolate at home.

Many are cancelling annual leave to fill uncovered shifts. But staff who have underlying conditions are still expected to come to work, with ineffective arrangements, just not to work on the ‘front line’.

And the recently retired make contact, afraid they will be forced to return despite age and underlying conditions.

We must oppose the Tories introducing draconian policing methods for hospital staff and other workers. And we demand again – when will they test staff?