The Covid crisis has not only demonstrated how precious our NHS and its workers are. It has also exposed how much damage a decade of austerity and privatisation has done to our health and elderly care systems.
Exercise Cygnus (2016) in England and Cygnet (2015) in Wales had indicated the need for contingency planning, extra intensive care unit beds and substantial supplies of PPE and medical ventilators to deal with a serious epidemic in the future.
Yet civil emergency planning resources continued to be cut, ICU beds disappeared, surplus stocks of PPE for hospital staff were sold off to raise money and Britain’s capacity to manufacture medical ventilators continued to dwindle. By 2020, the Tory government had to look to China and other countries to rush ventilators and other vital equipment to Britain as troops and local council workers built makeshift ICU units. The delays caused thousands of unnecessary deaths, including of NHS staff.
In the privatised elderly care sector, it was a similar story. Staff and residents died in their thousands, especially in badly managed homes with poorly trained staff, despite the efforts of many workers and managers.
The lessons should be clear.
All measures to weaken, break up, commercialise or privatise the NHS must be halted and reversed. The objective must be to drive profiteering out of the NHS, while involving workers and users more closely in consultative and administrative functions.
The measures proposed in Exercises Cygnet and Cygnus must be implemented in full, making a top priority of the necessary investment in civil emergency preparations and home-based production of essential equipment and capacity.
All NHS staff should receive an immediate above-inflation pay rise in tribute to their courage and dedication. Elderly care must be brought back into the public sector as a matter of urgency, with funding for local councils to help re-establish a national network of affordable residential homes in their area.
Elderly care in England should be integrated with NHS healthcare and local government social services, following best practice now being pioneered in Scotland and Wales.
Urgent steps should be taken to ensure that all elderly care staff receive adequate training and at least the statutory minimum wage.
Additionally, there is a crisis in the availability of affordable dental and eye care in numerous local communities. Communists call for this provision to be brought back into the NHS.