On 11 February, Tory health secretary Matt Hancock announced a series of reforms for the NHS and social care. The stated aim is to bring about a greater integration of health and care services, in order to meet society’s needs more effectively.
The new proposals include plans to remove legal bureaucracy; make patient data available across the health and social care sectors; and reduce unnecessary tendering of NHS services.
Importantly, the NHS will be enabled to make decisions without the intervention of the Competition and Markets Authority.
This is a welcome turn away from the disastrous ‘internal market’ that was introduced in the last round of Tory NHS ‘reforms’, as part of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
Despite these lofty promises, we must remain vigilant. The NHS and social care will never be safe in Tory hands.
It is clear that these reforms by no means indicate a change of heart for the Tories. What is granted today will be snatched back tomorrow, for the sake of profit.
For starters, whilst proposing greater ‘integration’, these latest Tory proposals do nothing to stop the scourge of privatisation.
Indeed, the privatisation of NHS services continues apace under the Tories. On 9 February, for example, 40 GP surgeries in London and a number of NHS contracts were sold to the US health company Centene.
Furthermore, the proposals are hardly sufficient to repair the damage done to social care and NHS services, which are crippled by overwhelming pressures.
These pressures are particularly evident in social care. At the start of this year, the number of COVID outbreaks in care homes tripled in the space of a month. And many have experienced staff absence rates of up to 50%, with new cases forcing care workers to self-isolate.
In turn, plummeting staff numbers have seen care workers run off their feet, unable to provide quality care for both long-term and COVID-19 residents.
This is a symptom of the disastrous policy of funnelling COVID patients into care homes throughout the past year, due to the lack of hospital beds inside the cash-starved NHS.
In addition, despite promises to prioritise the vaccination of care workers, many were still waiting for their first dose 10 days after the government’s deadline. HC One – Britain’s largest private care provider – stated that 40% of their staff had not received their jab at this point.
COVID-19 did not create this crisis in social care. Rather, the pandemic has simply revealed all these existing cracks in the system, exposing them for all to see.
Cronyism and corruption
If this wasn’t enough, a recent House of Commons report found that 30% of care workers, doctors and nurses did not have sufficient PPE in the first wave of the pandemic – even in high-risk settings.
Throughout the coronavirus crisis, many of these workers have been forced into the dire position of having to care for people with COVID-19, without sufficient PPE to protect themselves from infection. This not only puts these workers themselves at risk, but their families too.
The inability of the market to adequately provide for NHS and social care workers is painfully obvious. Nevertheless, the Tories have not wasted this opportunity to siphon money towards their capitalist chums.
Recently, a High Court ruling even found that Matt Hancock failed to provide transparency during pandemic procurement processes, as he dished out coronavirus-related contracts to private profiteers.
This included: a PPE contract worth £14 million that was awarded to CH&L Ltd – a business owned by Frances Stanley, a family friend of the Tory health secretary; and another £30 million contract that was given to a firm owned by the former landlord of Hancock’s local pub.
Perhaps most scandalously, the Tories paid £21 million in taxpayers money to a Spanish businessman to act as a go-between for the securing of PPE for NHS staff.
Far from ending this cronyism and corruption, the latest ‘reforms’ being proposed would actually give Tory ministers more control and power over the NHS and its services – power that they will no doubt continue to use to enrich their wealthy friends.
In spite of the catastrophe that has hit care homes over the last year, the government has learnt nothing.
Recent figures confirmed that 25,000 patients were discharged into care homes without a test at the height of the pandemic last year. It is unknown how many of those patients were infected. What is known, however, is that by the middle of May, one-in-three care homes had experienced an outbreak of COVID-19.
It is not hard to see the correlation. Nevertheless, last month, the government proposed new guidelines that would allow hospital patients to be sent into care homes without a COVID test – blindly preparing the ground for an appalling loss of life at an even greater scale.
The echoes of claps for carers have long faded.
Forced to endure ever-worsening conditions on poverty wages, care workers are reaching the end of their tethers. This is not a time for hollow gestures and words, but for radical change in the care system and across society.
Coordination between the government, NHS, and social care is a vital step forward. But the Tories’ latest proposals cannot solve the fundamental flaws in these sectors.
We must demand more than what is being offered by Hancock and the Tories. They do not have the interests of workers, patients, and care home residents at heart. As the recent cronyism scandals show, their only concern is lining the pockets of their chums.
MODEL MOTION: #SaveOurNHS with socialist policies!— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) February 4, 2021
Looking ahead to @UKLabour conference 2021, @PeoplesMomentum are seeking policy proposals. The NHS crisis must be urgently addressed. We call on activists to push our model motion & fight for a socialist solution. [A THREAD] pic.twitter.com/1jvjjCnwxI
All outsourced NHS contracts must be reversed, with services and staff brought fully back in-house. And the resources needed – to fight the pandemic, and to meet society’s needs going forward – must be supplied through a mass programme of investment in care homes, hospitals, and equipment, alongside a union-led mass recruitment drive of staff.
Likewise, the entire social care sector must be brought under public ownership and workers’ control, organised into a National Health and Care Service. In this way, proper care could be provided to the vulnerable and elderly, funded and paid for by nationalising the banks and expropriating the profits of big business.
Tory politicians, NHS bureaucrats, and fat-cat consultants cannot be trusted to run our healthcare system. Instead, health and social care workers themselves – those who know best – must be put in control. Only then can we have a health service that is designed to serve those in need, rather than act as a source of profits for Tory cronies.