By JB & Plan C Health Group.
Epidemiologists, healthcare experts and environmental scientists all knew a pandemic would come. Everything that is happening has been anticipated. Despite these facts, the UK government has systematically dismantled institutional capacities of the NHS and refused to follow advice from scientists and medical experts. We now face an unprecedented crisis with severe resource shortages. The NHS is in a situation where it cannot protect UK residents or even its own doctors and nurses to international standards of other wealthy nations. Countries who have acted decisively such as South Korea and Germany will have far higher survival rates. The situation is critical and urgent action is necessary.
We do not have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS workers. We don’t have the COVID-19 tests to ensure NHS workers are not spreading the virus. UK healthcare workers and residents will suffer the consequences of a state that has gutted its capacity to address a crisis of this nature. Already healthcare workers, on the front line and exposed to heavy viral loads without proper personal protective equipment, are catching the virus while saving lives. Three doctors have already died from COVID-19 in the UK.
Faced with a pandemic for which the NHS is ill-prepared, this set of demands was written with and for healthcare workers and ultimately for the people they treat. As the NHS faces a mammoth battle in saving lives while healthcare workers are not given the equipment and tests they need to stay safe, we demand that resources are allocated to those on the front line of this pandemic. The UK government must take immediate action to save lives.
Covid-19 NHS, Healthcare Worker Demands
1. FULL TESTING FOR ALL HEALTHCARE WORKERS
UK healthcare workers are currently not tested according to World Health Organisations standards. The UK government has the lowest testing of wealthy nations with only 1,500 tests per million in comparison to 5,812 per million in Germany and 7,622 per million in South Korea. Countries that have contained the virus use testing along with extensive contact tracing, quarantining contacts, protecting healthcare workers, community surveillance and mobile IT. Healthcare workers urgently need to be tested so they do not spread the virus and also so they know when they can go back to work.
2. FULL PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT FOR NHS WORKERS
UK healthcare workers need safety equipment in accordance with World Health Organisation recommendations. Healthcare workers in contact with cases and susceptible subjects must be fully protected by personal protective equipment (PPE), such as medical mask, gown, gloves, eye protection (goggles or face shield) – plus an apron and FFP2 mask in certain procedures. We demand an immediate end to NHS rationing of PPEs and the downgrading of requirements. Where austerity measures have resulted in insufficient stocks, equipment must be manufactured or requisitioned to save lives.
3. PROTECTIONS FOR FAMILIES OF HEALTHCARE WORKERS
Healthcare workers living at home put the people they live with at risk. Hotels must be put at the disposal of healthcare workers to reduce and contain transmission. Systems must be in place to quarantine and contain the virus to protect healthcare workers, their patients and their families.
4. ALL SCIENCE AND MODELLING OPEN TO PUBLIC SCRUTINY
The UK government has repeatedly followed a type of health policy strategy that is distinct from the international scientific consensus. Debates about the “herd immunity” strategy wasted precious time when the government needed to organise effective containment strategies. We demand daily scientific briefings so the UK’s best scientists and public health experts can ensure policy is developed on the basis of accurate information. We need transparent information on key healthcare policy decisions. Why can the UK not roll out COVID-19 testing like other countries? We know there are structural reasons why the UK cannot test on a scale similar to China, South Korea or Germany because so many category three labs have been closed over the past decade. We need full information in regard to the destruction of the healthcare system in the UK.
5. NHS PAY AND CHILDCARE
We demand fair contracts for junior doctors and nurses. We demand an end to insecure and low paid employment for cleaners and ancillary staff working in health settings, pay caps for consultants and bureaucrats and a levelling of pay and conditions for all staff. All qualified healthcare workers who are migrants must be invited to work. All workers must be paid sick leave so everyone can afford to self-isolate. Subsidised NHS workplace nurseries must be provided fitted to shifts for healthcare workers. Privatised childcare costs lives.
6. FULLY FUND THE NHS. END HOSPITAL CLOSURES. NATIONALISE WITHOUT PROFITEERING
The NHS needs more beds. The sale of NHS healthcare services must stop. Outsourcing health services must stop. Hospital closures must stop. Our lives depend on hospital facilities. We demand the appropriation of private hospitals to ensure the NHS has all the bed space and resources it needs to save lives. The UK does not have the number of NHS beds equivalent to European neighbours. Previously privatised services must be re-nationalised, putting an end to discriminatory private health provision in the UK that drives the defunding of the NHS.
The UK does not have ventilators for the anticipated number of people who will not be able to breath without them. We demand that the UK government ramp up the immediate purchase and manufacture of ventilators. UK ventilator manufacturers have offered to sell the NHS ventilators. These should be purchased, along with more ventilators with the European consortium. Giving large orders to Tory Party donors that do not traditionally make ventilators (i.e. Dyson) is corrupt and will cost lives. Ventilators are essential life saving equipment that must be purchased for immediate deployment.
8. PUBLIC COVID-19 TESTING
It will not be safe to end the lockdown until a massive testing programme is implemented. Social distancing alone will not contain the virus. The antibody tests proposed by the UK government will help individuals get back to work only once individuals have been infected. Short of allowing the disease to flow through the entire population, the lockdown will not end until there is adequate testing for the virus itself (i.e. viral RNA in saliva) along with tracing and isolating infected individuals. The solution to testing the virus is devolution. Regional testing must be immediately established. The process can be managed using local university labs, set up with mobile test centres where people with symptoms are swabbed.
All of these demands respond to the chronic defunding of the NHS. They demonstrate the contradictions between healthcare and market priorities. The UK is the 5th richest country in the world and absolutely has capacity to protect NHS workers and public health. We demand that the UK government use money at its disposal to save the lives of NHS workers and the rest of us.
The situation is changing fast so these demands will evolve. The essence of the problem remains the same: public health relies on the understanding that the wellbeing of each of us matters. The logic of market forces destroys public health policy as it seeks efficiency at the expense of care. The virus is revealing the incredible cruelty of ordering civilisation according to the logic of capital accumulation above all other values and priorities. Capitalist logics have nearly destroyed the NHS such that it cannot adequately protect its own workers or the UK public. The lives of NHS workers are valuable. Our own lives are valuable. We demand proper healthcare.
These funds can easily be released by stopping the Trident replacement. The government must close all non urgent work (e.g. arms manufacturing) and concentrate on resourcing the NHS to save lives. Let the monarchy demonstrate their commitment to the UK public by supporting themselves so we can live.
Finally, all these demands are permanent. We never want to face a healthcare crisis with 100,000 unfilled vacancies, 17,000 beds closed in the last 10 years and poorly paid healthcare staff ever again. Healthcare must be managed as a common, funded by the state but outside of state and market controls – self-managed by association of doctors, staff and patients collectives.