Kick out the Privatisers! photo: Paul Mattsson

Kick out the Privatisers! photo: Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Steve Harbord, Hillingdon Socialist Party

I have heard it said in defence of the government response to Covid-19 that “nobody could have seen this coming”. But they were warned, and chose to ignore it.

“The UK’s preparedness and response in terms of plans, policy’s and capabilities, is currently not sufficient to cope with the extreme demands of a severe pandemic that will have a nationwide impact across all sectors” was the conclusion of the government’s own ‘Exercise Cygnus’ study reporting in 2016.

The study, bringing together over 950 representatives from 12 government departments, was commissioned to look into how the health and social care sector could deal with a flu pandemic. The publication of the report was delayed and its recommendations ignored.

It has been the policy of successive governments over the last 40 plus years to cut the cost of the NHS as the needs of the free market have taken preference over the broader needs of society. This pandemic has shown that this is a false economy as the economy has plunged into a recession amid the health crisis.

I worked in the London Ambulance service for 30 years and watched as Thatcher, and then Blair’s New Labour took the axe to health services. Their ‘value for money’ mantra resulted in wholescale privatisation across the NHS and social care sectors, with attacks on workers’ terms and conditions, hospital closures, a reduction of hospital beds, closures of A&E departments, and reductions in ICU beds. This has resulted in a health and social care service that is fractured, disjointed, and wholly unprepared for such a pandemic.

Unbelievably, the Cygnus report was unable to fully analyse the provision of the privatised social care sector. They were unable to get access to information about who was providing the care and where! The private sector is allowed to do its own thing – detached and unaccountable.

What this crisis has proved is that the market should have no place in the provision of health and social care. Not only is it disjointed and inefficient, but under this Tory government it has been turned into a gravy train of nepotism, cronyism and downright corruption, as contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds have been handed out to Tory politicians’ friends and family.

The Socialist Party calls for a publicly owned NHS and social care sector under democratic worker’s control. We call for nationalisation of the major pharmaceutical companies, bringing them and the social care sector under the NHS umbrella, to be organised on a not-for-profit basis, and with compensation only paid on the basis of proven need.

Only these actions can ensure a health system that is free and fit for purpose. We need to end the chaos of the free market system in health and broader society, and replace it with a democratic, socialist planned economy.