THE neoliberal orthodoxy which decrees that public services should be located in the marketplace, their functions subordinated to the profit nexus and service provision reduced to bare-bones delivery means the NHS has a limited number of intensive care units that — before the coronavirus epidemic really takes off — are already 80 per cent occupied.
The inevitable consequence of this situation is that the section of the population most vulnerable to the virus — the one in five of us, mums and dads, uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers — will, if infected, be subject to the kind of battlefield triage system which compels doctors to allocate access to these vital services only to those most likely to survive.
If the battlefield analogy is compelling in its stark realism, the response by government must be equally rooted in the logic of national survival when faced with a threat of this magnitude.
The first response of the Boris Johnson government was entirely consistent with the laid-back indolent, laissez-faire mindset which characterises this hypocritical representative of a social and political class that’s a world leader only in cynicism and hypocrisy.
On one hand the schools which serve the vast majority of the people must stay open while the £42,000-a-year school which educates the children of the upper section of the ruling class and which inculcated its values in Johnson will shut.
Of course, the rich do not necessarily use the NHS, or if they do find themselves in an NHS facility it is because that already part privatised entity is available as a form of outdoor relief for the privileged whenever its resources are made available for queue jumpers with cash.
Now the government is beginning to recalibrate its approach. If the government feels it necessary to decree the house arrest of the elderly it must be made to understand that the full mobilisation of both the public and the private health sector is also necessary.
Every single private health facility, every luxury hospital bed, every doctor or health professional — most of whom were trained at public expense — must be mobilised to meet this emergency.
Where industrial and scientific production facilities need to be switched to produce the equipment and medical supplies that are needed they should be subject to state direction.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has caught the moment with his demand for the government to mobilise all the resources available and has given substance to this with a call to suspend rent and mortgage payments, ramp up statutory sick pay from day one and provide income security for insecure, low-paid and self-employed workers.
Such affronts to the prerogatives that flow from private ownership will be unpalatable to the rich.
Before this particular health emergency assumed global proportions, there were already unmistakable signs of a developing economic crisis.
Without doubt there will be attempts to attribute this as simply the result of the coronavirus epidemic.
But the country’s very unpreparedness is but one manifestation of the underlying inability of the capitalist system to resolve the problems of 21st-century life.
The international and particularly the Chinese experience of recent weeks is that a centrally directed, comprehensive and planned approach is necessary and that this requires the full mobilisation of all national resources.
It is increasingly evident that this means government must in more tranquil times support an overcapacity in the health and care services and not the bare-bones approach that austerity cuts have imposed and which have left our country unprepared.
As this government’s credibility is undermined Labour must give voice to the collectivist solutions that alone can tackle this crisis.
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