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CORONAVIRUS will hit the working class, the poor, the disabled and the most vulnerable the hardest, thanks to government attacks on the NHS, campaigners warned today.
The Keep Our NHS Public campaign group (KONP) said that the government’s policies “have undermined the ability of the NHS to respond to Covid-19 at the threshold of a pandemic.”
KONP co-chair and retired paediatrician Dr Tony O’Sullivan said: “As fear sets in about the spread of the coronavirus, the weakest points in the protection that the NHS and other public services offer exactly mirror the most ignorant, vindictive and ideological of the policies of our political leaders.
“These include the slashing of social care and severe cuts to the very public health services the country is now relying on.
“And it is a certainty, as coronavirus spreads in Britain, that the hardest-hit will be among the working class, the poorest, the most vulnerable sections of society — including migrants excluded from free NHS care, the elderly, the disadvantaged and disabled.”
His co-chair Dr John Puntis warned that the NHS is “woefully unprepared” to deal with the spread of the virus, particularly in the event of the worst-case forecasts of up to 50 million infections and up to 250,000 deaths in Britain.
He said that there could be “little doubt that both health and social-care services will be severely challenged by even a modest intensification of the outbreak.”
KONP called for an end to the insecurity of outsourcing NHS staff — often on zero-hours contracts — to enable the NHS to reprioritise publicly provided care.
Committing to real funding increases would allow full staffing and restoration of bed losses and would restore morale among some 1.5 million NHS staff, the group said.
And to successfully tackle the threat posed by this virus, a “return to the founding principles of an NHS for all” would enable society to respect the universal right to healthcare, to share risks and to protect everyone, without exception, against contagious diseases, KONP said.
The group is demanding an NHS free at the point of use, available according to need, and publicly funded and provided.
NHS trusts now stand £14 billion in debt due to government policies.
Updating MPs on the coronavirus in Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock repeated claims that the NHS was “well prepared with record numbers of staff, record nurses and record doctors.”
Today the TUC called for the establishment of a coronavirus emergency taskforce involving unions, employers and government agencies as the number of those diagnosed with the virus in Britain topped 300.
The TUC said the taskforce is needed to minimise the impact of the spread of the virus on the economy and public health.
The main priorities of the taskforce would be to design an emergency support package to prevent businesses from folding with workers losing jobs and pay, ensuring that public services are kept running and that public-sector workers are protected from the virus.
The taskforce would also work to change Britain’s sick-pay rules so that every worker has financial support regardless of how much they are paid. Almost two million workers still face receiving no sick pay if they take time off work because of the virus.
Fatalities from the virus rose to four today with the death of a 70-year-old patient in Wolverhampton.
The government said that “social distancing” measures to delay the spread of the virus will not yet be introduced but that it accepts that the virus “is going to spread in a significant way.”
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