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Covid cases have soared, with over 100,000 cases a day for several weeks. This is likely to be an underestimate as tests have not been available and many people are not bothering to test. As a result, hospital admissions and deaths are rising again after the holiday season. Twenty-four health trusts have already declared critical incidences. Staff shortages, already a problem for the past decade, have reached crisis point, both to absences due to Covid and the large numbers leaving in despair. Those that remain are close to breakdown.
The government insists that the NHS is not ‘overwhelmed’ which is the signal for them to move beyond Plan B. The government, and large sections of the public, seem to think that the Omicron variant is less severe and therefore can treat it like a cold. Though there is evidence that Omicron is less severe than Delta, it is still too early to know for certain. However, less severe or not, the huge number of cases mean that hospital admissions could still be as high as last January, when the government actually recognised that there was a problem.
At the moment, all the evidence suggests that the NHS is already overwhelmed. Though less patients are in intensive care, they are still in acute wards. They have to be kept separate from other patients so this is taking out beds that are needed for other acute patients (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/05/covid-is-affecting-all-of-acute-care-so-the-system-sludges-up).
“The numbers of patients we are treating now – both Covid and non-Covid – is quite incredible. Our acute medicine team is staffed to look after 45 patients but this morning we had 62. Ten of those 62 have got Covid and the others have a mixture of all the medical conditions that land people in hospital – pneumonias, strokes, heart attacks, liver disease. My colleagues on the respiratory wards are the same. They’re staffed for 45 and have got 58. Covid is affecting all the acute specialties (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jan/06/nhs-trusts-england-critical-incidents-covid-pressures-omicron)”.
This situation will only get worse as cases are rising steeply amongst the elderly after the Christmas mixing (https://news.sky.com/story/covid-19-steep-rise-in-hospital-admissions-among-elderly-will-send-shudders-through-nhs-12510345).
The other issue is staff shortages, now at their highest level since January last year, before the vaccine roll-out (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jan/07/nhs-england-hit-by-highest-covid-absences-since-vaccine-rollout). The government has been forced to call in the army- yet still denies that the NHS is overwhelmed, insisting that they will have to “ride the wave”.
The other indication of the seriousness of the health crisis is the number of people on waiting lists, currently 6 million. Then there are all the people who have not been able to get a diagnosis on life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
Many rightly argue that the NHS has been in crisis for years, thanks to decades of cuts and ideologically driven reorganisation plans, eg more managers, privatisation. Successive governments have shown their contempt for NHS and social care staff, refusing increase the pay of nurses and other health and social care staff who risk their lives for ridiculously low wages (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2021/jan/opinion-what-overwhelmed-nhs-looks-we-must-not-look-away).
If you can’t see it…
The media has been more likely to publish stories of people annoyed that they can’t party in Scotland and Wales, or of the decline in people frequenting crowded indoor spaces and the problems for business, than they are of the situation in the NHS. Following the lead of the government, there is no sense of solidarity with those who are on a deadly battlefield; people carry on as if it has nothing to do with them. Headlines deliberately mislead, bigging up decline in cases when they fall from extremely high levels to very high levels. Though hospital admissions have increased, going from around 800 a day to over 2000 in the past week, these are downplayed. Nothing is made of the fact that the UK has the highest number of deaths in Europe, excluding Russia, and the 7th highest in the world, coming after countries with much higher populations like the USA and/or with lower incomes and inadequate health services such as Peru and Mexico.
Protection and support- not lockdown
Independent Sage, the British Medical Journal, and health staff all over the country have called for measures to be put in place to relieve the pressure on the NHS as well as lower the death rate. They stress that they are not calling for lockdown but the problem is Johnson portrays any public health measures as “restrictions” so people are less likely to support them, giving him an excuse to do nothing and appease his rebellious backbenchers. In addition to the vaccine programme, they call for the wearing of the superior FFP2 facemasks (provided free), the installation of proven ventilation systems in schools and workplaces, an effective track and trace system with financial support for self-isolation, including better sick pay, and vaccine equity around the world
If there does have to be restrictions to reduce indoor mixing, there should be a support package for business.
None of these are major impingements on our freedom, but they would cost money! The government has shown through-out the pandemic that they are unwilling to spend money unless it goes into the pockets of their chums. One of the reasons for not temporarily closing some entertainment venues is because they would actually have to pay money. With the current high level of cases, there has been a reduction in footfall so businesses are losing money and not getting adequate support from the government.
Privatisation going on behind closed doors
One has to ask if the blatant disregard for health and social care staff is not part of a deliberate ploy to run-down the NHS and bring in even more privatisation. Staff are too busy to organise any effective opposition and there is little publicity in the media so many people are unaware of what is going on. One of the biggest changes has been the sell-off of some GP practices to a US medical giant, with more sell-offs planned. Fortunately, there is going to be a judicial review because of the complete lack of consultation. (For more information see: https://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/news/nhs-structures/private-us-company-takeover-of-london-gp-practices-set-for-judicial-review/, https://www.eastlondonadvertiser.co.uk/news/gp-surgeries-privatisation-protest-7921128 and https://thkeepnhspublic.com/.
Solidarity is key
While the government and business focus on what is good for the economy, encouraging people to go out to work and to consume, we need to continue to argue for solidarity with:
- the staff working in the health and social care
- those suffering and dying from Covid and their families
- those forced to go out to work even though they are ill because of lack of financial support and inadequate sick pay
- education workers who continue to support young people at great risk to themselves
- the 3.7 million+ vulnerable people who cannot begin to live normal lives because the risk of catching Covid is too high
- those in the rest of the world who are denied vaccines because of the greed of corporations and nationalistic policies of governments