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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 April 2020

Where's our PPE? Where's our testing? Where's our money?

PPE, photo freerangestock.com

PPE, photo freerangestock.com   (Click to enlarge)

Beth Webster, ICU nurse at University Hospital Wales, Cardiff

Health workers don't want medals, and care workers don't want badges.

We want the equipment we need to be safe while we do our jobs. And we want a decent pay rise that means worrying about paying the bills isn't distracting us from worrying about patients.

That's why millions of health workers were enraged when Tory health secretary Matt Hancock said: "Now is not the time to discuss a pay rise for nurses."

Health workers have had a decade of real-terms pay cuts, leaving many of us with pay worth 20% less than it was in 2010. That meant thousands of nurses and other health professionals left the NHS, leaving us too short-staffed to run the NHS properly, even before the coronavirus crisis hit.

Many of my colleagues are saying that they will play their part while the emergency lasts, but that they're leaving afterwards. That would be a catastrophe for everyone who relies on the service. It must be made clear that the sacrifice of these workers is valued. There should be an immediate 10% pay rise, plus hazard pay, and an agreement to quickly recover all pay lost since 2010.

The last straw for many has been the callous way that politicians have treated our safety. Initially, we were told not to wear any personal protective equipment (PPE). After health worker fatalities and rising anger, the guidelines were changed. But they're still driven by supply failings, not safety, and in most areas the PPE is inadequate.

This, together with the pitifully small number of people who have been tested in the UK, means many health workers have nothing between them and the developing pandemic. It feels like we're being sent over the top without any ammo.

Despite what Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford says, PPE failures were a key factor in why there are so many infections around Newport. 50% of accident and emergency workers in the Royal Gwent Hospital have the virus, according to an A&E consultant there.

Nurses and doctors have been hooked up to ventilators in the unit I work in. Some are among the 100 health workers to have died as a result of the disease. We need an urgent trade union-led investigation of the health worker deaths in the UK to see what PPE they were wearing, whether they were trained properly in its use, and what the conditions were like on their wards. Because fatigue really can kill in this situation.

There has been no serious effort to guarantee the supply of the PPE we need by the UK government or the devolved governments. There shouldn't be a debate in the press at all about whether there's enough PPE or not: politicians are lying when they say there's enough to go around. It's not the fault of nurses. They are having to ransack hardware stores, and appeal on social media for supplies.

At the hospital I work in, we keep running out of things as basic and essential as medium gloves, swabs for Covid-19 tests and facemasks, including in the ICU. There is outrage that instead of finding a solution to the shortages, the response has been to reuse equipment or downgrade the safety guidelines.

The health unions should take control of determining what health workers need to work safely. They should take over the supply and distribution of PPE too. We need a new army of union reps to come forward to coordinate that, and make sure we're kept as safe as possible.

The government should immediately take over companies capable of producing PPE and re-purpose production to produce the equipment we need.

Workers who know the job need to run things directly too. So that there are no more mistakes - like the ventilators that have been manufactured and are useless because patients can't be weaned off their support - and so that all the shortages can be identified.

It's not just ventilators we need. Dialysis machines, supportive pillows for prone patients, and liquid nutrition, for example, are all in short supply too. The industries should be run under democratic workers' control, with health workers on the boards involved in designing the kit, and ensuring it is correctly distributed.

Safety

Income

Action

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 22 April 2020:


Frontline workers speak out

Where's our PPE? Where's our testing? Where's our money?

London bus drivers' action over safety stops front door boarding

Care homes coronavirus scandal: blood on their hands

PPE shortages: "I feel so bloody angry"

Trade union activists from across the south of England discuss the battle for safety on the frontline

Management tells carers PPE would 'worry' residents

Councils must demand control of supplies and reversal of austerity

More dispatches from the front: 'There are so many more patients dying'


World economy

World economic crisis: A Marxist approach to the coronavirus crunch


Workplace news

No 'back to school' until outbreak is under control and trade union agreed safety arrangements

DWP: Action on workers' safety, and protection of pay and conditions needed

JD Sports: Shut up shop and give us full pay!

RMT: Lift the suspension of Steve Hedley

Bromley Libraries 'restructure' in middle of pandemic!


Lenin at 150

Lenin at 150: A revolutionary life - and the relevance of his ideas to today's working-class struggles


Coronavirus news

National plan for testing needed

Capitalist press attacks Tory incompetence

Tory think tank proposes attack on pensions

Shocking increase in domestic violence killings

US private healthcare system in meltdown

Coronavirus news in brief


Workplace safety

The history of struggle to make the workplace safe


Campaigns

Excellent support for Socialist Party special appeal

Why I joined the Socialist Party

Clapping, driving, postering - for workers' rights

The role of the Socialist during the corona crisis

Policies that really protect the NHS

Coronavirus: Students' charter

Socialism the Podcast: What do our listeners think?


Readers' opinion

Covid-19 patient speaks out: fantastic support from under-resourced health workers

Going viral: Socialist comments and letters


 

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