Requisition capacity and boost pay for NHS and care!

Submitted by AWL on 16 November, 2021 - 6:39 Author: Martin Thomas
Sage picket line

Thanks to over a decade of budget squeezes, the NHS is already stretched beyond capacity. And it’s not yet winter.

A backlog of ailments from nearly two years of intermittent lockdowns, and lack of care home space for patients who could be moved there, has already flooded hospitals.

In 2020 the government paid for private hospital capacity to help the NHS with Covid. So, now? Immediately requisition all private-hospital capacity and staff, and integrate them with the NHS. The labour movement should also demand that the government boost NHS and care staff levels by immediately meeting NHS workers’ pay demands, taking care homes into the public sector, putting their staff on NHS-level pay and conditions, and developing extra care home capacity.

Flu is still at low rates, and will add to the stretch if it reaches even average winter levels.

Covid case counts, after a slight downtrend following 21 October, have ticked up again since about 7 November. Portugal, the Netherlands, and Denmark now show us that, with Delta, sizeable case count spikes are possible even with vaccination percentages which are higher in all those countries than the UK. The toll of serious disease is much less than with lower vaccination; but it is still sizeable.

Maybe the UK now has a wide enough spread of immunity from vaccinations, boosters, and previous infections to flatten the new uptick. But we don’t know.

Beyond vaccines, the only established and known way of flattening spikes is Covid curbs. Evidence from the USA, France, and Italy, where limited curbs have been more sustained (mask mandates, distancing rules, entry restrictions to workplaces, cafés, etc.) suggests that limited curbs could be enough, but we don’t know.

We are fairly sure that to make such curbs more effective, and limit the virus longer-term, we need social measures: full isolation pay, workers’ control of workplace safety (including ventilation), improvements in housing, etc.

The British government has been slower than other European governments on vax mandates. Now England has a vax mandate for care-home workers from 11 November, and will have one for frontline health workers and domiciliary care workers from 1 April.

This is a difficult issue. Covid is infectious before it shows symptoms, and Delta is highly transmissible. Vaccination protects not only yourself, but others whom you might infect, especially if (as with health and care workers) many of those are frail and elderly people with whom you work daily. Socialists are for, rather than against, workplace safety rules.

Trying to impose vaccination of recalcitrant minorities is, however, difficult. Compared to improving pay and conditions in the NHS and care, it may not be the best use of effort. By April health and care workers who haven’t been vaccinated are almost certain to have been infected instead, and to have not-very-different immunity that way.

In France and Italy, sizeable numbers of left-minded workers have objected to vax mandates, but all the big demonstrations against the mandates have been dominated by the far right. In Trieste, Italy, where the protests were biggest and included a strike by some dockers, Covid counts are now three times other Italian cities’ (though another factor there is Trieste being so close to high-Covid-rate Slovenia and Croatia).

There is no overwhelming case for socialists positively to back the government’s vax mandate moves in England, or to press Wales and Scotland to follow. But there is equally no case to see stopping vax mandates as a good focus for trade union action.

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