Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 27 January 2021

Overwhelmed, underfunded, underpaid, and still fighting for safe PPE

Hospital workers are

Hospital workers are   (Click to enlarge)

Holly Johnston, Sheffield Socialist Party and NHSPay15 campaign organiser

On the front line we're seeing whole wards being wiped out with staff sickness. In my own trust, at the start of January, there was approximately 9% staff absence. When an area has an outbreak, it brings it to its knees. This is not because of a lack of effort and hard work from staff. We're simply working in an already overwhelmed NHS under a government that doesn't prioritise the safety of workers.

Hospitals across England are getting more and more likely to reach capacity, compounding the difficulties already faced by the shortage of NHS beds in England, which have been halved over the last 30 years.

Around 50,000 staff are off sick with Covid-19 or self-isolating. There are already 100,000 vacancies in the NHS due to the government's lack of funding and not prioritising recruitment and retention of staff. One-third of nurses are considering leaving, with the pandemic highlighting the mental health strain on staff as well as the financial health problems many of us face.

The hospitals are relying on the good will of already exhausted staff to pick up overtime shifts, or on agency workers who are often moved from area to area without being routinely swabbed.


Unions and other grassroots campaigns have been fighting for Public Health England to update the current PPE guidance. The science available clearly outlines the requirement for higher-level protection in all areas treating suspected and Covid-19 patients, not just for aerosol generating procedures. We now know that Covid-19 is spread by large droplets and small aerosol particles which are generated by coughing, talking and even breathing.

At the beginning of the first wave, we were all geared up for mask fit testing and to wear higher-grade FFP3 masks. However, this quickly changed and we were supplied with just surgical masks and visors. It became evident that the guidance was based on what masks were available rather than what was needed.

NHS trusts should interpret national PPE guidance as the bare minimum level, not the absolute ceiling for PPE. Some trusts have shown it can be done, with Homerton, Plymouth and Southampton, among others, all changing their guidance to ensure safer working conditions.

Healthcare workers are three to four times more likely to contract Covid-19 and the ongoing pressure on the NHS is huge. As many as one in ten that have had Covid-19 face long Covid issues.

It's worrying what the NHS workforce in the future will look like without urgent prioritisation of funding, a stop to outsourcing and cuts, and better safety for the workers.

At the last count 670 healthcare workers had sadly lost their lives, with the up-to-date data no longer being made available.

Health and Safety England is in the pockets of the bosses. It has come to light that it has been signing off PPE that isn't fit for purpose. That highlights the need for a replacement body under the control of the trade union movement, while also strengthening the argument for a nationalised manufacture and supply chain.

The quality of the PPE has been variable with aprons and gloves in particular ripping upon wearing them. The leadership of the NHS unions need to fight for what is needed. We know that unions that fight are unions that grow, and activists need to push for a fighting programme which will bring about change and expand union strength in our workplaces.


The vaccine programme is bringing some new hope for many NHS workers, but we must not let the government use this as a reason to be complacent and come out of national lockdowns too soon. The vaccine will help lessen the severity of symptoms in most people, but will not stop you being a carrier for the virus.

We also do not want the vaccine programme to fall into the laps of another Tory crony and become another private contract. The misinformation and lack of clarity from the government is worrying as it only helps to dissuade people from having the vaccine, potentially reducing the uptake.

Student nurses have been having a particularly rough ride, with first and second years essentially working for free during the pandemic and still having to pay university fees. They are invaluable pairs of hands on the wards and are definitely not upholding their usual supernumerary status. This means that they are being treated as if they are part of the workforce. Some third years are getting paid, but it is dependent on whether individual trusts are willing to issue contracts.

After decades of cuts and privatisation it comes as no surprise that the NHS is already overwhelmed. The true picture of the extent of the damage is yet to be seen. What has become apparent, with more urgency than ever, is the necessity of a party that represents the needs of health workers; one that will bring the NHS into public ownership and control, one that will defend services, fight austerity and oppose pay freezes.

The Socialist Party demands

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

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 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.
  • 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.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 27 January 2021:


Covid spreading, poverty rising, rich get richer, fight for socialism!

Health, Covid and the vaccine: It's a class issue

Poverty wages: When workers can't afford to self-isolate

Fees frozen at 9,250 a year, fight for free education

DVLA Covid outbreak: They only care about output and productivity

Jaguar Land Rover: West Midlands superspreader


Schools: 'We have to fight for everything'

Martin Powell-Davies for NEU DGS: "We need to use our collective strength"

What we think

Biden, Labour, and the need for a new mass workers' party

Workplace news

Sage care workers strike again: Billionaires refuse to pay up

Unison NEC elections: United left challenge needed to fight slaughter of jobs and services

Steel site scaffolders strike for the 'rate of the job'

Merseyside: DHL workers at Burton's Biscuits strike against half-baked pay deal and bullying bosses

British Gas engineers continue strike against fire-and-rehire plans

Low-paid hospital workers strike


Overwhelmed, underfunded, underpaid, and still fighting for safe PPE

Health worker cooperation in the face of the pandemic

Arab Spring

Ten years since the 'Arab Spring'


TUSC is up and running for May elections

Come to the TUSC local elections conference - 7 February

Why I'm leaving Labour and campaigning for TUSC

Councillors in Surrey resign from Labour and look to stand independently


Solidarity meeting with Mohamud Hassan

Save Our Square from New Labour gentrification

Help fund a challenge to austerity at the ballot box - donate today!

International socialist news and analysis

Mass protests in Russia against Putin regime


TV Review: It's a Sin

TV review: The Hidden Story of Disabled Britain


Home   |   The Socialist 27 January 2021   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleBarts NHS workers strike back

triangleSelling the Socialist

triangleWakefield TUSC - Fighting for low-paid workers and NHS

triangleNews in brief

triangleTory vaccine sacking threat set to deepen NHS staffing crisis


triangleSomers 'slaughterhouse' Forge

triangleTrade unionists in the USA fighting back

triangleTrade unions and the fight against council cuts

triangleWorksop Wincanton logistics workers begin ninth week of strike action


triangleEmployers use vaccine excuse to attack sick pay

triangleTV review: Vaccine Wars: The Truth About Pfizer

triangleCovid-19: New variant emerges but same old capitalist disease


triangleUK Covid-19 mortality similar to Spanish Flu

triangleSocial care providers put profit before residents' needs - nationalise care now


triangleTories responsible for NHS staff shortages


triangleWider working-class and union struggle needed to win St Vincent nurses' strike


triangleTory NHS funding won't fix staff shortage

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis


The Socialist

We need a workers' alternative to big business Tories and Labour



News in brief



Lords reject parts of anti-protest bill



Social care providers put profit before residents' needs - nationalise care now



Cost of living crisis



Want to fight austerity?



Tories hand cash to private health profiteers



Tory vaccine sacking threat set to deepen NHS staffing crisis



Tories on the ropes - Build a workers' alternative



No trust in Tories to keep us safe



Employers use vaccine excuse to attack sick pay



News in brief


Welfare state

Mutual aid, the welfare state and the fight for a new mass workers' party


Socialist Party

Pamphlet: What the Socialist Party stands for



Super-rich get richer, while we can't make ends meet. Join the fightback!

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 077 7221 5281

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793



Alphabetical listing

January 2022