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Photo: Pixabay / Public Domain

Photo: Pixabay / Public Domain

The government has simply not prepared the NHS for the second Covid wave combined with a winter crisis, warns Caitlin Southern

The announcement of tiered lockdowns while coronavirus related hospital admissions rise is ill thought out, allowing as it does for the virus to spread by encouraging more mixing of the population. Rather than clear, sensible and enforceable universal rules constituting a hard national lockdown there are a variety of restrictions, with local authorities having some freedom to decide what limits are in place in different areas. As more young people are developing complications from coronavirus infections that require hospital treatment it becomes ever more clear that the failure of the Tory government to allocate adequate resources and funding to the Covid-19 response is crippling our NHS.

The regional disparity in severe cases has been highlighted by the instruction to bring northern, but not southern, ‘Nightingale Hospitals’ out of mothballs in preparation for the looming shortage of critical care beds in the Trusts. There are so-called ‘derelict’ wards in many existing hospitals, closed because the staff needed to operate them do not exist, due to successive Tory governments deliberately failing to invest in training and retention. The personnel needed to run the converted warehouses as medical facilities will either have to be drawn from existing overstretched departments or magically found elsewhere. Even if the private medical sector and armed forces medics can be drawn on to provide some of the care required in these places, the need for serious acute care will not be met without incapacitating the very hospitals that they are supposed to support.

Every year the ‘winter crisis’ in the NHS gets worse and lasts longer, with the summer reprieve already being a fading memory prior to the pandemic. The lack of beds and facilities coupled with austerity-driven poverty has led to patients requiring higher levels of care in ever greater numbers as the workers, whether directly caring for patients or providing less visible support, face attacks on their pay and working conditions which leads to many leaving their positions. These positions go unfilled, often for months or years, as the disinvestment in training has led to a lack of suitably qualified people to take on the roles and there is no incentive for anyone to progress into a system where they will not receive the support they need to do their job to the highest standard.

The continuing confusion over PPE procurement and availability will only make the situation worse as staff will be unable to guarantee that they will have the equipment to safely perform necessary care. They will either have to put themselves at risk by potentially going without the right PPE or reusing single-use equipment, or put their patients at risk of not receiving the highest levels of care, care that workers are desperate to be able to provide.

This Tory government is failing to protect the NHS on a scale that not even ten years of extreme austerity ideology had prepared us for. They are still outsourcing contracts for PPE to their donors who have no experience in the field, still preventing local health teams from running efficient official test and trace programs, still blaming everyone but themselves for the rising infection rate despite the intentionally vague restrictions in place.

The deliberate failure to learn the disastrous lessons of the first wave of the pandemic has left us as ill-prepared as we were in March, but ever more terrified and exhausted as we have some small knowledge of what the second wave is likely to bring.  The Tories have consistently betrayed the NHS and the people who devote their lives to caring for us at our most vulnerable moments. NHS and care workers help us through the most difficult times of our lives, it’s time we stood up and demanded that they have the protection, staffing and PPE they need to do their jobs and live their lives in safety.

NHS Staff Voices public meeting, Tuesday 20 October, 7pm. What’s going on: we aren’t ready for a winter crisis

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