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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 May 2020

Tories using pandemic to shift lab testing out of NHS

  (Click to enlarge)

An NHS laboratory worker

The Tories have set up a parallel structure to the existing NHS laboratories network, involving big private companies, and a mixture of unidentified and unqualified staff. Meanwhile, NHS labs have not even been running at full capacity.

Why? It is clear the Tories are exploiting the crisis to establish private-sector medical testing networks - as a precursor to winding down NHS laboratories in the future.

The Tories have spent weeks trying to avoid making testing a central aspect of their coronavirus strategy, to the extent that the UK was criticised by the World Health Organisation. But NHS laboratories were more than ready to take on the extra work.

In many cases, workloads in the laboratories were significantly reduced. Fewer people are attending GPs' surgeries and specialist clinics, so the number of other tests requested fell. In addition, a policy of prioritising the most urgent cases prevailed in the laboratories in anticipation of a large increase of coronavirus tests.

The NHS laboratory that I work in has spare capacity and a willing workforce, but even after a month nothing has come of it, despite a new 'assay' (test) being validated. Daily testing capacity, however, has reached 73,400, so there is plenty of capacity within the NHS generally to take on the work.


The Tories are clearly looking outside the NHS to have the tests done. They are setting up 50 new regional testing centres, and three new 'super-labs'. This is instead of fully using the existing NHS laboratories - 44 of which are underused, according to a former director of the World Health Organisation.

The super-labs decision was taken behind closed doors, with no consultation with the trade unions involved. They are reportedly to be run by "highly qualified staff and volunteers," leaving existing NHS staff and our unions wondering where these other "highly qualified staff" will come from, and what exactly the role of "volunteers" would be.

Health journalist John Lister reports that new 'lighthouse labs' are being set up through a partnership. It includes the government's Department of Health and Social Care, the science business networking organisation Medicines Discovery Catapult, not-for-profit processing facility UK Biocentre, and the University of Glasgow.

In Cheshire, the project is reported to be 'working closely' with pharmaceutical multinational Astra Zeneca. In Glasgow, it is linked with drug research firm BioAscent Discovery Ltd, and big pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline is also involved.

Equipment for these laboratories has been borrowed from universities and other organisations across the UK. In addition, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline are setting up an entirely private-sector super-lab in Cambridge.

So much for the praises heaped daily on the NHS by the Tories at the moment. It's nothing more than a PR exercise while they pursue their aim of destroying the NHS.

NHS workers in NHS facilities should do this vital work, adequately funded, on trade union conditions, working in conjunction with universities where appropriate. Private companies should have resources requisitioned, not be put in control!

The coronavirus response must be about saving lives and preventing suffering - not about undermining the NHS in order to make profits for big business.

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In The Socialist 5 May 2020:

What we think

Bosses push to lift lockdown - they only care about profits

Coronavirus news

Dispatches from the NHS front

Bail out the real wealth creators, not the rich

Homes needed to end overcrowding

Homeless left on streets during pandemic

Pay full fees for virtual courses? - No way!


Your donations can keep the Socialist going

Test and trace

Test and trace: workers need a real plan

Tories using pandemic to shift lab testing out of NHS

Workplace news

Nationalise British Airways to stop 12,000 redundancies

Postal workers force Royal Mail back

No increase in transport capacity without adequate safety precautions for workers and passengers

Unsafe Workplace? "It's up to you" PCS tells reps and members

Further protests in Ireland against Debenhams closures - UK fightback needed

Rolls Royce threatens 8,000 job losses

EDF Energy workers furloughed on 100% pay

International news

India: Fighting the curse of capitalism and coronavirus

US: Trump's public health cuts have condemned thousands worldwide

Trump puts profit before safety (again)

Lessons from history

The Tyneside apprentices' strike during WW2


Peter Hadden remembered

Readers' opinion

Going viral: Socialist comments and letters on the corona crisis

TV Review BBC Panorama: PPE shortage - how many lives will be lost?


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