Corona crisis: A socialist commentary on some of the key issues

Corona crisis: A Commentary on some of the major issues so far

we have brought together below a series of short stories about the coronavirus crisis from members stuck in isolation and those still at work .

A Nuneaton nurse made this desperate comment: We’re “like Lambs being led to the slaughter”, as heroes are put at risk because of a lack of protective equipment and testing.

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*Testing of Health workers in England began on Saturday 28th March – 58 days since the first case of Coronavirus!

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And see all our coverage and analysis of the Coronavirus crisis in one place!

LACK OF VIRUS TESTING – becoming a national scandal.

How crazy is it that Health workers have not been tested from the start? Health workers staying at home isolating in case they have the virus may not have it, and health workers remaining at work could be infected and spreading the virus to patients and each other.

Health workers risking their own lives to treat us are not tested and scandalously, still don’t have anything like enough access to Personal Protection Equipment that would make them much safer, and therefore able to carry on treating us.

The almost criminal lack of testing means that Government advice if you get symptoms, is “Stay at home and isolate”, ‘Don’t go to hospitals or doctors surgeries’.

But, apparently not everybody. Eyebrows were raised when Prince Charles with “mild symptoms” went to hospital and was tested. Then Boris Johnson has the same and gets tested immediately. Meanwhile Health workers and the rest of us don’t. One rule for them, another for the rest of us.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says ‘test, test, test’ if you’re to successfully fight the disease. But that advice has not been followed to date and is jeopardising us all. Simon Stevens, NHS boss says they’ll do hundreds of tests this weekend, but there’s hundreds of thousands of health workers! What’s needed is tens and tens of thousands.

And what’s the point of thousands of retired NHS staff volunteering to return to help if the government is going to let thousands of staff disappear from the service because they fall ill? Or of workers infecting patients because they don’t know they have the virus?

All of this starkly reveals to us all the way in which the underfunding of our NHS and the lack of preparation for a pandemic by government, is now endangering us all.

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Where are we with testing?

“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded…test, test, test” said the director general of the World Health Organisation regarding fighting coronavirus.

Yet last week only 3,746 patients were tested per day. This compares to say 15,000 in Korea, 40,000 in Germany. Consultant Cardiologist Mark Gallagher called this a “policy of surrender.” “They are abandoning the basic principles for dealing with an epidemic… test whenever possible, trace contacts and contain.”

Johnson says the government is “ramping up” testing to 25,000 a day, but it could take 4 weeks to reach this level.

The editor of the medical journal the Lancet said “these dangers were clear from the very beginning. We have wasted seven weeks.” There must be an immediate massive injection of money and resources into the NHS and social care to expand the supply of beds, equipment and staff. All private medical facilities and testing and processing facilities should be requisitioned and integrated into the NHS.

A HEALTH SERVICE UNDER-FUNDED AND UNDER-PREPARED:

The crisis has revealed how the cutbacks in NHS spending have left the service inadequately prepared. Already overstretched every winter and recently most of summer as well, Government policy, combined with privatisation in the service had led to a huge under-capacity of beds, Intensive Care beds, doctors and nurses even in normal times. It has left workers with too little Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and the service short of ventilators. (ventilators pump oxygen into seriously ill patients).

They have run the NHS at 99% capacity with no slack in the system to deal with any exceptional situation. Running hospitals like a car factory – ‘maximum efficiency’. But the NHS isn’t a car factory, it’s a care system for humans.

Some facts:

  • Italy had TWICE our number of Intensive Care beds.
  • The UK has one of the lowest number of doctors and nurses per head of population (in OECD countries)
  • The UK has fewer acute beds relative to its population than many comparable health systems
  • Government failed to increase Nurse numbers –not helped by starting to charge people to train as nurses!
  • Hospital beds halved over the past 30 years, from around 299,000 in 1987/88 to 141,000 in 2018/9
  • This is A HEALTH SERVICE UNPREPARED BY YEARS OF AUSTERITY AND INCREASED PRIVATISATION:

One vow we must all make is that we will never let our NHS be made so weak ever again.

As the deadly pandemic spreads what has been revealed is that years of government austerity had left our NHS unable to cope with such a virus. We should have known, as there were enough reports of the health service struggling every winter and even in summer.

It’s now obvious that the NHS had too few beds, too few doctors and too few nurses.

Numbers not helped by the governments attack on Junior doctors, by their charging fees for people to train as nurses which dramatically cut the number of trainees and numbers reduced by the pressure of work which drove many prematurely from the service.

But even when it was known the virus was coming (while some believed it was only flu and were unprepared, that’s ok because it isn’t the public’s job to know, but it was the governments job to know and prepare) the lack of preparation and time wasted to take measures about the lack of ventilators, intensive care beds, staff and testing was a failing.

Has Government acted quickly enough?

Lack of preparation, a changed strategy and the gap between words and deeds

We’ve all seen reports ‘we’re 2 weeks behind Italy’ and events are truly scary there. That health workers have only just begun to be tested, and in small numbers, and many still lack protective equipment shows how inadequate the response here has been.

Last week’s dramatic increase in cases seems to have moved the Government from complacency to panic stations. All talk of ‘herd immunity’ was dropped after the Imperial College study indicated that 500,000 deaths could ensue, and necessary social isolation was increased.

But inadequate action was taken over testing despite the World Health organisation saying it was vital to combat the virus –and we won’t be able to emerge from lockdown until huge scale testing is available. That, combined with austerity and the historic lack of beds, doctors, nurses, ventilators and vital protection equipment has meant desperate catch up measures by a government forced to drop its free market ideas – temporarily at least.

But the gap between the promises and reality still looms large. Government statements say they’ll do all that’s necessary without ever saying what exactly.

They failed to be part of an order organised by the EU for ventilators because ‘they didn’t see the e-mail’.   They claim to have lots of PPE but every day some doctors and health staff say they’re not getting enough.

Health experts are saying that lack of action could lead to thousands of extra lost lives. Crowded public transport and who are essential workers is still unresolved. The self-employed ‘will be helped’ –but not til June at least. People trying to access universal credit joined queues of hundreds of thousands! Disabled and seriously ill people struggle to access food deliveries – supermarkets still claim not to have had list of the 1.5million vulnerable people from Government.

From Zeroes to Heroes ……….and back to zeroes afterwards?

No Prince, Prime minister, Lord or Dame has failed to point out how they took to the streets to join the rest of us in applauding Health-workers, be they nurses, cleaners, doctors or whatever.

Plainly, all should applaud the NHS and other essential staff. However it has taken a pandemic to remind some in this country that without cleaners, binworkers and the like we’d all die anyway, -to remind us that all workers are useful.

What a contrast with beforehand. As part of its’ ‘assault on the public sector’ the government not long ago sought to encourage Junior doctors to stay in the NHS by pushing them out onto strike! One newspaper – you can guess which – editorialised that all the doctors should be sacked. MP’s also cheered after voting to restrict nurses pay and they began charging fees for people to train as nurses.

Hospital parking charges: – meanwhile our heroes have been charged to park for just going to work and risking their lives to help us all. They’ve happily been charging workers for years. At Coventry’s UHCW the private company (under the Private Finance Initiative – PFI- deal) made £2.7 million profit in its first year, which last year that rose to a staggering £8 million +. None of this goes back into healthcare, but is a flow of £1 coins into a multi-national’s bank account.

As public support for health-workers soared and petitions gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures the government realised that they’d better be seen to do something. Firstly, well done and thank you to all of you that surged to sign our petition against parking charges at Coventry’s hospitals and to the at least 400,000 who signed a national petition.

NHS minister Matt Hancock said the charges would be dropped. But it’s not clear how this will work for PFI hospitals. Hancock merely said he “urged” Hospital Trusts to drop the charges. We’d be interested to hear from Health workers at UHCW what’s actually happened.

So let’s keep the pressure up, and health service Trade Unions, Get onto this!

And as this pandemic fades, don’t let workers be pushed back from Heroes to Zeroes.

Worker at a major food distribution centre: “Amid the chaos of coronavirus, it is interesting to note that on the Tory governments list of key workers not one billionaire is mentioned.”

We’re all socialists now?

The Coronavirus crisis and the utter incapacity of the ‘free market’ to deal with it have forced the government into dramatic interventions. Tory ministers have been forced to rip up all their old ideas.

They cut and privatised in the past, now they are nationalising and spending! Governments around the world are abandoning their neo-liberal ‘let the market decide’ policies. One commentator in the Telegraph said “To avert socialism, we must briefly become socialists, we must spend whatever it takes to save free market liberalism” In other words, they are currently scared their system is being exposed, but as soon as possible they want to return to their old ways.

Millions who’ve suffered or seen poverty and insecurity will ask themselves why can’t governments act for us in normal times? Why if billions of pounds (magic money trees) can be found now, why was it not available when we were struggling under austerity? And why should these measures only be used briefly to save capitalism and not to save society?

Only a few months ago Corbyn was ridiculed for saying money should be spent to invest in improving our society, when he argued for rail nationalisation -which has now happened in practice – they said it made him ‘unfit for government’.

Government has asked firms to convert production, so why can’t production be re-purposed all the time to make socially useful products jobs and skills and to help society?

A US doctor made a plea for “a plan” to cooperate and collaborate in dealing with the crisis, but Socialists argue that you can’t organise production and distribution for need while big business puts profits first. A Vaccine was close to production for a previous corona outbreak, but it was never finished because the virus didn’t become widespread enough for a big enough ‘market’ to make profits from. Understandable for a private firm, but incomprehensible in societal terms.

Big pharma should be integrated into the NHS to guarantee research and the production of medicines, vaccines and treatments.

This lack of planning comes from a system driven only by profit and not human needs. More and more the state is having to intervene to overcome market inadequacies. It reveals the need for planning the economy to coordinate production and distribution of goods, services, medical supplies etc. That can only be done if the major manufacturing, service and finance industries are taken into democratic public ownership.

The supporters of the free market will want to go back to it as soon as this blows over, we must stop them and win support for a new Socialist and democratic way of organising society

Is a cure on the horizon? by former GP Jon Dale

‘Testing large numbers is critical to fight epidemics. Small biotech companies employing 20-30 scientists are rapidly developing faster, more accurate tests. But they may be too late for this pandemic.

Private investment in these bio-tech companies between 2015-19 was 6 times less than in companies researching treatments where higher profits are hoped for. (one expert commenting on inadequate diagnostics) said it was “a market failure” that diagnostics were less valued than treatments.

Large companies making diagnostic tests don’t invest in tests that may not be needed, they want guaranteed sales. A Socialist plan of production would combine laboratory research with modern purpose built factories, prepared for new infectious outbreaks.

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

Tests for all now! Nationalise production and research. While we await a cure, we can cure the system that holds us back in the our fight against epidemics

 

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