NHS demonstration NHS demonstration. Photo: Gwydion M. Williams / Wikimedia Commons / cropped from original / CC BY 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

The pandemic has exposed just how corrupt and incompetent the Tories are, as well as the importance of protecting the NHS, writes Alia Butt

We are now entering a third wave of the crisis. The pandemic has shown Britain for what it has become, with the numbers exposing the government as brazen liars. Despite Health Secretary Hancock’s ‘protective ring’ around care homes, the ONS have reported that 47,000 residents have died – one third of all Covid-19 deaths. 60% of deaths have been of disabled people.

Early on in the pandemic we were seen as invaluable, yet 1,500 health and care workers have died. The government claims there is no institutional racism in this country, yet black men have been four times more likely to die. Women have suffered massively greater social and economic impacts with 71% of working mothers refused furlough despite a greater need for childcare over this time.

But these disparities are not due to the pandemic. We are seeing the consequences of years of disregard for the welfare system, health service, education system, the sick, elderly, disabled and those earning too little to get by. It is no coincidence that this year 700,000 people have been plunged into poverty while billionaires have increased their wealth to record highs.

Staff are leaving the NHS in order to find work in supermarkets where they are treated more humanely and paid better; teachers are earning around £4,500 less than in 2010 despite the task of caring for increasingly malnourished children under horrendous pressure to pass arbitrary tests.

Once again, the government have allowed Covid-19 infections to rise dramatically through its reluctance to prioritise people over profit. Dido Harding has been handed billions of pounds, with another £15bn coming her way, in order to deliver a track and trace service – a vital part of an effective response, one we still need in order to save lives. It has and continues to be a complete failure that would have been far better handled by professionals in the NHS who know and care about what they are doing.

Dido has been criticised for paying consultants £1,000 a day despite proving useless, with the UK racking up horrific numbers of cases while other countries successfully assuage the damage. Despite her incompetence, Harding has made clear her bid to run the NHS, while failing to suggest any plans, aside from a painfully insulting promise to get rid of ‘foreign’ staff – a reference to the 170,000 non-British staff who routinely save lives and care for our most vulnerable, with hard work, skill and dedication.

The government’s dishonesty is made very clear when we look at the treatment of the NHS. Hancock promised “there will be no privatisation on my watch”, yet money going to private companies over the previous 4 years had gone up by 15% – an overall increase to £9.2bn.

Privatisation aside, in 2016 a lot of money and time was put into the attempt to better understand how Britain would fare in the face of a future crisis. Exercise Cygnus, a cross government exercise where the UK’s capacity to deal with a pandemic was put to the test over 3 days showed that we were woefully underprepared. The government have since taken no heed of the report’s key findings and have instead attempted to bury its existence, while continuing to tear the NHS apart.

The recent white paper on the NHS has been presented entirely disingenuously as an antidote to the HSCA which has already made privatisation easier and the NHS more accessible to private tenders and competition. It actually seems as though the new legislation will allow less public accountability and allow private companies to not only purchase tenders without competition or scrutiny, but also sit on the boards which decide where and how NHS money is spent. This is unheard of and will of course be disastrous for staff and patients alike.

The NHS is dying. A survey by the Health Service Journal, finds 93% of NHS trusts are falling short, with nearly half lacking 10% of the nurses they need: that’s three times more than five years ago. Nurses are being substituted with untrained assistants and the future looks precarious for professional care standards, with suggestions of deregulation.

Our access to healthcare is under bigger threat than ever, as are our education services, housing, welfare, and our civil liberties.

The Tories are relentless in their attacks on working people and they’re using the pandemic as cover. But the Tories are also weak. Despite their parliamentary majority, they face a deepening crisis, they’re divided and mired in scandal after scandal. The anger across the nation is palpable. And they know it – that’s why they tried (and so far failed) to limit our ability to protest before the lockdown ended.

We need to act fast, with unity and determination, on the streets, in our workplaces and communities to push back against the Tory agenda. We must demand a new normal.

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