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Pay workers, not privateers

HELEN O’CONNOR looks at how private firms supplying drugs to the NHS have their hands up to the elbows in NHS tills

IT IS easy to understand that the promise of a vaccine for the deadly virus that has rapidly changed the entire way we are living in 2020 offers so much hope for so many.

There is a widespread and genuine desire to end the growing nightmare of an ever-increasing death toll and put the shame of the fact that we have the highest death toll in Europe behind the country for good.

The job losses which have left thousands of families up and down the country struggling for the most basic necessities of living must be ended as a matter of urgency. The pain and isolation of lockdown, where people cannot see friends and family face to face, is leaving emotional scars on the mental health and wellbeing of so many people. The most isolated and vulnerable people are the ones suffering the worst impact of this. 

Eight months down the line, it is reasonable to conclude that efforts made to reduce the spread of infection and reduce the death rate have not had the impact we would all have wished for. Furthermore, there has been well placed and widespread anger about the failure in the lockdown strategy, the provision of PPE and the test, track and trace service that has seriously rocked public confidence in the leadership of the country. Even though billions have been taken out of the public purse and handed over to the private sector to find solutions to protect the public and prevent the spread of Covid-19, the failures in the provision of PPE and the test, track and trace strategy have been loudly and publicly condemned.

The cost per unit for some medications commonly used in the NHS are simply staggering. One such example is the price of Intra-Muscular Paliperidone used in the treatment of psychosis which is £425 a month per shot.

In terms of the Covid-19 vaccine we are hearing from the scientists and the manufacturers themselves  that it could take up to another year to know how long an immune response would last and the safety data will take a further two years to compile.

Any and all health interventions must offer value for money for the public purse as a most basic principle. This pandemic has revealed the depths of the contradiction between ensuring public health safety and the profit-driven market in the NHS. Any coronavirus vaccine must be made freely and readily available at no cost to individuals themselves.

NHS GMB union members want the hell of struggling to treat growing numbers of people infected with Covid-19 to end because even in ordinary times their work conditions were difficult enough.
Matt Hancock publicly wiped off £13 billion of NHS debt during the last peak of lockdown and GMB union NHS workers would be disappointed to see the NHS sink into masses of fresh debt because private companies are draining public funds dry by attaching eye-watering sums to  solutions to save humanity. 

Paying NHS workers properly should be seen as a vital part of the overall solution to this pandemic and all future public health emergencies.

NHS workers will not accept arguments that their pay, terms and conditions should continue to be driven down while private companies net huge profits from the pandemic. Our NHS members who are in the eye of the storm of the coronavirus pandemic will expect this government to have funds to give them the significant pay rise they need and they deserve.

The majority of people are keen to find genuine solutions to this crisis, not least because they are the ones suffering the most from its impacts.

A vaccine for coronavirus offers some degree of hope in the face of the growing health and economic catastrophe that is hitting working people including NHS workers the hardest. Lots of extreme views about the intent behind the new coronavirus vaccine are rife all over the internet but the vast majority of level-headed people would dismiss these ideas.

However, many people will understandably have legitimate questions about the safety, efficacy, cost of the new product and who will pay for it.

These questions must be answered in an open and transparent way if we are to reduce and eliminate vaccine hesitancy and build public confidence in a vaccination programme.

Those with genuine questions about the vaccine must not be dismissed, told they are stupid or lumped in the category of “anti -vaxxer.” 

The most effective way to counter lack of understanding is not by silencing people or with censorship but with a genuine effort to educate the mass of the people in scientifically researched facts.

Investment in a comprehensive public health education programme could achieve this. As the new vaccine programme comes ever closer the old ways of lack of transparency, huge profiteering out of health and social care and slick advertising will not do if we are to really beat the issue of vaccine hesitancy.

Helen O’Connor is Southern region organiser for GMB.

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