Profiting from the coronavirus crisis
PROFITING FROM THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS
Ellen Lees from We Own It writes about how the UK’s coronavirus healthcare policy shows how bad privatization is.
The Guardian newspaper said that in 2017, the Department of Health said no to medical advice. The medical advice was to give NHS workers protective equipment for a possible future influenza pandemic. The Department of Health said that it was too expensive. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
The coronavirus crisis is a problem for the world. It puts millions of lives in danger and it is the biggest problem for public health in years.
It also seems to have changed the economic policies of the past 40 years. The UK government seems to have changed the idea of ‘ the market knows best’ intervention by the state. After ten years of austerity, cuts, and privatization, do the Conservatives now understand that the free market can’t give society everything it needs?
For example, with the railways, if you read the headlines, you might think that with fewer and fewer passengers the government had ended 25 years of privatization and ‘nationalized’ the railways.
That’s not quite true.
The government isn’t nationalizing the railways. The private companies will continue to run them and the government will pay them. This means no real change. The companies CrossCountry, First, and Abellio will still run the trains. The difference is that the government is paying them until the end of the coronavirus crisis.
This is not nationalizing the railways, it is showing how bad privatization is. When business is good, private companies make profits. When business is bad, the government pays the private companies to continue. And so, profits are privatized, and losses are nationalized.
It is the same with healthcare. With the Covid-19 crisis, the pressure on the National Health Service (NHS) is very big. Many cuts over ten years and the loss of 17,000 hospital beds left the NHS in a terrible situation before the coronavirus.
Using private companies in the NHS costs 4.5 ($5.48) billion a year. That is enough to pay for 72,000 nurses, and 20,000 doctors. Using private companies in the NHS has led to worse healthcare results. About £9.2 ($11.2) billion of NHS money paid for private contracts in 2018. This took money away from the healthcare system and gave it to private companies.
So, it is right that the UK government has brought private hospitals to fight coronavirus.
But the Spanish government acted faster and used a better model. It used the private health sector and brought it into the public health system. The UK government chose a contract model so that the public pays for the services. No one knows how much.
It is important that we know what is happening in this contract. And, as private health companies really want NHS contracts, the government must end these contracts after the coronavirus crisis. Campaign groups including We Own It, War on Want, and Momentum asked for this in their letter to Health Secretary, Matt Hancock.
But it isn’t only about more beds. We think we need 20,000 more ventilators for people with the coronavirus who cannot breathe without medical help. Over 40 per cent of those in hospital in China from coronavirus needed ventilators.
The UK government ordered 10,000 ventilators from vacuum cleaner company, Dyson, and 3.5 million tests from private companies – again we do not know how much this will cost.
And The Guardian newspaper said that in 2017, the Department of Health said no to medical advice. The medical advice was to give NHS workers protective equipment for a possible future influenza pandemic. The Department of Health said that it was too expensive.
But as Dr Salaj Masand said to The Guardian, now the government are asking celebrities to pay for protective equipment and they are competing with private companies who want to sell the same protective equipment for very high prices.
The government is paying public money to private companies but the government could have a publicly-owned company to make important equipment. Then the state could give the NHS the equipment it needs quickly and more cheaply – for example, ventilators and personal protective equipment for the coronavirus crisis now and other items for future healthcare.
Three NHS workers have already died from the virus and so it is very important to find the best way to find and pay for healthcare equipment in the coming weeks.
Everyone needs to work together. People will and can look after each other – looking after neighbours or giving food to food banks.
But we can’t do this alone. This crisis shows how important public services are, including healthcare. When this crisis is over, we need to make sure that services are good enough for future crises. That means they need to be in public hands, for the public good, and not for private profit.
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(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)