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A decade of Tory failure ‘weakened our defences’ with Britain woefully unprepared for pandemic

by Ceren Sagir

A DECADE of Tory failures “weakened our defences” and meant the country went into the coronavirus pandemic woefully unprepared, Labour will warn today.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth will highlight how Britain cannot be complacent about the future in a speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

He will explain how under-resourcing, underfunding and a failure to invest in public health programmes worsened the NHS’s ability to combat Covid-19. 

Britain went into the Covid-19 crisis with 17,000 fewer NHS beds than in 2010, spending on health substantially lower than the historical average and with a health workforce smaller compared to other advanced economies. 

Mr Ashworth will say Britain must build health resilience and tackle health inequalities. 

This should include introducing new statutory duties to plan, audit and invest in pandemic response, alongside obligatory training for ministers in “germ-gaming” in the same way that the military prepares for conflict scenarios. 

Public ownership campaigners have welcomed the proposals and warned that future pandemics could follow.

Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) co-chairman Dr John Puntis said that the government’s unpreparedness “was not so much because of lack of planning exercises but decisions taken not to implement recommendations on financial grounds.”

He said: “Plans to make sure this does not happen in the future are urgently needed and will give new meaning to government providing ‘defence’ for citizens. 

“Unfortunately, the current government appears unwilling to learn lessons and has, for example, deferred a public inquiry into the coronavirus until some unspecified date in the future.”

He said that the success of the vaccination campaign “illustrates the benefits of investing in local publicly funded community health structures and not in centralised and privatised schemes such as the disastrous ‘test and trace’.”

We Own It campaigns officer Pascale Robinson said: “Our NHS went into the Covid-19 pandemic with one hand tied behind its back. 

“After over a decade of austerity, underfunding and privatisation, the NHS was completely ill-equipped to handle a major shock to the system like a pandemic.

“The blame for this sits squarely at the government’s door. They’ve handed massive chunks of the health service to money grabbing private companies and failed to invest in the NHS’s future.”

Ms Robinson said Britan must be “ready and prepared” for future pandemics by “kick[ing] the private companies that are sucking money out of our precious health service and properly fund the NHS.”

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