I watched the BBC Panorama programme on the NHS and the Government failure to prepare properly for the Covid-19 pandemic, despite warnings. It focused on its failure to stock and resupply adequate amounts of appropriate Personal Protection Equipment, and to spin the amount of PPE newly received by, for example, counting a pair of gloves as two items and including cleaning disposables as equipment.
The Tories cannot legitimately complain if they have made the NHS the centre of controversy because it is they who put it to the fore – ‘Protect the NHS’ is the slogan, with ‘success’ of its whole effort defined as the NHS not being overwhelmed by casualties of the virus. It is important we don’t buy into this.
We are implored to ‘Protect the NHS’ when it is the function of the NHS to be the last line of defence for us. Instead it has become the last place anyone wants to go. Having scared everyone by the lockdown, vast numbers of existing and prospective patients have either been told not to attend, had their treatment cancelled or postponed, or have been unable to get diagnoses and tests they badly need. The NHS isn’t dealing with them – it has been estimated that 18,000 extra deaths from cancer might result, currently around half of those recorded as dying from Coronavirus.
Not only has the NHS moved from defending us to us being exhorted to defend it, but the NHS is actually a threat, including to its own staff, over a hundred of whom have been estimated to have died from the virus. While appointments and operations are cancelled, and Emergency Department attendances have collapsed, we are invited to acclaim the empty Nightingdale hospitals and empty beds as a success! We are expected to recognise as successful an NHS that has become the site of infection and the one certain place to avoid unless you have absolutely no choice.
We are to applaud a service that has stopped being a National Health Service and become a National Covid Service following a transparently political agenda. As I have written before, we are invited to ‘Protect the NHS’ when truthfully what we are invited to protect is the Government that has so denuded the NHS of resources for so long, and made such a mess of the current outbreak, that it simply cannot cope with doing its day job and deal with the virus at the same time.
By making sure that the NHS is able cope we ensure that the cuts and their effects are hidden despite the crisis; but rather than seeing this as a grotesque choice we have been forced to accept we have been invited to greet it as ‘success’, as Johnson so glibly and cynically put it.
And we do this because the NHS is one indivisible saintly entity without a bureaucracy that heads it, or an amoral Government that directs it, that unproblematically reflects the innate compassion of humanity – despite the evidence that doctors, nurses and purchasing managers have all complained that this organisation is failing its own staff never mind those it is there to serve.
The NHS, created to put an end to dependence on charitable provision, has become the biggest charity case in the country. No doubt many people want to help, but the greatest help is not the individual resources many have had to fall back on but development of critical political consciousness.
We are supposed not to pay attention to the censorship of NHS staff who complain about their lack of protection but invited to applaud every week the protection these people are supposed to give us. We are simply to accept that cancer patients will not get their treatment because on balance they would then have their immune system too compromised if they became infected, which is only the proper choice if we already accept that they cannot be protected.
We are to ignore that the NHS has taken PPE from elderly care homes while moving infected patients from hospitals into them: ‘Protect the NHS’ does not apparently mean Protecting Social Care. Their clients’ deaths weren’t even counted in the headline daily total until very recently.
It becomes ‘pragmatic’ to downgrade the level of PPE required by NHS and care staff because the real scientific advice, unencumbered by Tory political pressure, would demand a level of PPE that the NHS cannot provide. So the ‘objective’ scientific advisors objectively become conspirators in covering up Tory austerity, neglect and incompetence.
This is a surreal world of spin and lies and suppression of facts, fairness and free expression that has worked because of fear and ignorance and lack of accountability, and because we really do rely on the NHS.
The Government has not been held to account by the Labour ‘opposition’, has only begun to face some media criticism recently, and has benefited from the social isolation of social distancing. This distancing includes distancing from reality, substituted by what Marxists call reification and alienation that amplifies the worst media influences and instincts to defer to authority. This authority would have us rally round flags standing either side of Government spokesmen who substitute for the primacy of the people clichéd totems of Britishness and itself. Real solidarity is replaced by calls to the police by snitches reporting neighbours who don’t get out to clap the NHS and its workers.
So, in Belfast we were told that 15,000 people would die but now only 1,500. We have appointments and procedures cancelled and postponed and over 70 Covid-19 beds created, that last week saw only around half occupied, while a further 200 plus have been set up. A hotel has been taken over but only one floor is so far used. Never mind, this may be ready for the next surge in September – October, which will perhaps translate as another Johnsonian ‘success’. Ring for a service and you can be told that resources are being devoted to the treatment of Covid-19. Appear in the City Hospital and find yourself inside a ‘clean’ area that unfortunately has just had red signing put up to indicate Covid-19 areas as the green signs disappear. In some locations work is hectic while in others activity has hardly been lower and there are only the rituals of infection control. Similar stories could be told across the NHS but it is all socially and politically invisible.
The NHS is a bureaucracy as well as a service, but it has become a saintly institution which it is blasphemous to criticise, and one that the Government has wrapped round itself to shield itself. In the Orwellian world of 2020 those who have spent ten years weakening it are holding up the banner of its defence against those whom it should serve and have suffered from the years of austerity inflicted on it. Just as NHS staff have been blamed for PPE shortages so patients are held responsible for its inadequacy.
It is therefore not ‘Our’ NHS. It doesn’t even belong to those who work in it. Working people should be asking themselves how all this is the case and what it is we really should be defending. Socialists should ask themselves just what a genuinely socialist service would look like. The NHS hasn’t been hijacked, it’s simply following orders