OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER FROM THE SOCIALIST HEALTH ASSOCIATION
Dear Mr Johnson,
The pandemic has exposed the steady destruction of our public services and welfare state which has happened over the last 10 years.
This is the most unprecedented health challenge in 100 years which is complex and difficult – but as voiced by many experts in the field, we have significant concerns about the way the UK government has hitherto been approaching this national emergency. We hope from now on this will be better co-ordinated. We support frontline staff at this worrying time.
However the public is finally waking up to the fact that, as a result of government austerity and privatisation policies, we are ill-prepared – with too few ICU facilities, NHS beds, healthcare staff and equipment – to offer a safe and effective response to the virus. Those most at risk also have to use a threadbare social care system which is already bending under the strain.
The UK should be in a relatively strong position on public health with a comprehensive service, considered one of the best in the world. However, Tory reforms in England destroyed the health authority structure below national level and has slashed budgets but at least Public Health England has a regional organisation and Local Government have Directors of Public Health. We wish to make some key points:
- You are placing staff at risk
There is not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for clinicians/frontline staff who are now personally at risk every time they go to into work.
There is insufficient testing of staff who, having been put off work with minor illness and then return to the front line, do not know whether they have had the virus or not.
- You are placing patients at risk
There are too few beds and too few trained intensive care staff and equipment such as respirators. The government appears to have acted too late. We should be requisitioning beds from the private sector, not paying them £2.4 million a day.
Covid-19 testing has been wholly inadequate. It appears that a combination of inadequate preparation and misguided policy is responsible.
- You are placing communities at risk
Undocumented people, for instance migrants and refugees, have long felt unable to use the NHS for fear of being referred to the police or the Home Office. This will increase risk. Legislate on charging and reporting undocumented migrants must at least be suspended.
Those precariously employed, particularly gig economy workers, are still not financially protected and may be compelled to continue working inadvertently spreading infection.
Thousands of excess deaths have occurred in the last few years as a result of the slowdown and reversal in life expectancy. Austerity policies have been a significant cause. It confirms international evidence that cutting the welfare state while at the same time introducing austerity, kills people.
This pandemic is likely to add to that grotesque toll.
- You are placing the NHS at risk
Government policy has split hospitals from general practices and from each other. It has created an industrial approach to care where staff and patients are increasingly seen as economic units. The newest redisorganisation has opened up the English NHS planning process to the private sector and to the US, especially if we have a trade deal. In addition, it has the potential to split the English NHS into 44 independent units – exactly what we do not want as we fight a global pandemic. If your government’s Long-Term Plan had already been fully implemented doing exactly that, we would not have been capable of a well-coordinated national response to the Covid-19 crisis.
- You are placing Social Care at risk
Too little funding for Local Authorities has put social care on life support. Those most at risk receiving personal or residential care appear to receive the least advice and the least support to combat the virus. Those with Direct Payments, organising their own care with Local Authority funding, appear to be entirely on their own if their carers get ill.
- You are placing democracy at risk
The most recent reorganisation of the NHS has made both formal and informal democracy more difficult. Just when we need all communities to collaborate and contribute to responding to this global challenge, NHS organisations have become more distant and poorly responsive.
It has been frustrating and confusing to have changing government advice without any formal presentation of the data and evidence behind it. It was patronising and did not inspire confidence.
WE EXPECT YOUR GOVERNMENT TO:
- Treat us like adults – show us the evidence on which you base your decisions
- Protect frontline staff right now with clinically appropriate protective gear and systematic testing. Bring testing in line with the WHO recommendations.
- Protect the population of the UK by permanently increasing NHS staff in hospitals and primary care, increasing hospital beds, increasing respirators.
- Roll back privatisation and austerity across public services.
- Seize the opportunity of this pandemic to invest for the long-term in the welfare state, recognising that a thriving society requires a thriving state.
- Suspend now legislation on the charging and reporting of undocumented migrants.
- Invest permanently in social care, making it free at the point of use, fully funded through progressive taxation, promoting independence for all and delivered by a workforce with appropriate training, career structure, pay and conditions.
- Protect those in precarious employment from financial meltdown from the pandemic. All those who should not be at work should have an living income.
- Ensure that people across the UK have equitable access to the help they need, through their Devolved Administrations
- Review the Long Term Plan
Faced with this international emergency, we need to combine medical expertise – including support from abroad, with technical investment with practical solutions and community engagement along with emergency economic measures to fight this together.
Dr Brian Fisher, London
Dr Tony Jewell
Tony Beddow, Swansea
Norma Dudley, London
Mark Ladbrooke, Oxford
Jean Hardiman Smith, Ellesmere Port
Irene Leonard, Liverpool
Dr Tony O’Sullivan, London
Dr John Carlisle, Sheffield.
Terry Day, London
Carol Ackroyd, London
Corrie Louise Lowry, Wirral
Caroline Bedale, Oldham
Hazel Brodie, Dumfries
David Taylor-Gooby, Newcastle
Peter Mayer, Birmingham
Dr Alex Scott-Samuel, Liverpool
Dr Jane Roberts, London
Dr Judith Varley, Birkenhead
Vivien Giladi, London
John Lipetz, London
Jane Jones, Abergavenny
Dr Kathrin Thomas, Llandudno
Dr Louise Irvine, London
Dr Jacky Davis, London
Dr Coral Jones, London
Dr Nick Mann, London
Dr John Puntis, Leeds
Brian Gibbons, Swansea
Anya Cook, Newcastle,
Alison E. Scouller, Cardiff
Punita Goodfellow, Newcastle upon Tyne
Parbinder Kaur, Smethwick
Gurinder Singh Josan CBE, Sandwell
Jos Bell, London.
Steve Fairfax Chair SHA NE, Newcastle upon Tyne
The Socialist Health Association is a policy and campaigning campaigning membership organisation. We promote health and well-being and the eradication of inequalities through the application of socialist principles to society and government. We believe that these objectives can best be achieved through collective rather than individual action.