Clearing the NHS backlog: No to private sector deals!

Having struggled through the COVID catastrophe, heroic NHS staff are now working flat-out to treat the millions on waiting lists. At the same time, private health providers are looking to profit from the crisis.

While hospitals struggle to recover from the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, an ongoing backlog of 4.7 million patients brings a new threat to our ailing healthcare system. Meanwhile, private healthcare corporations rub their hands in glee at the prospect of further profits. 

In response to the massive demands of tackling the pandemic, almost the entire capacity of the private health sector was bought up by the NHS. £400 million per month flowed from the public purse to private companies, to allow access to more beds and other resources. 

Private sector CEOs bragged of ‘collaboration’, as public and private health care bodies ‘worked together’ to protect patients’ lives. Apparently, the much-maligned privatisation of the NHS was its saving grace during a time of need.

It should come as no surprise that these claims of private-public ‘unity’ are hollow and false. For the private sector bosses, the pandemic was a profit-making bonanza

Parasites

Blood on their hands Tories

Some companies saw a 50% growth in their revenue from the NHS thanks to these public-private ‘partnerships’. While claiming to be ‘independent’ healthcare providers, many rely on the NHS for up to 80% of their income.

Instead of the so-called free market, private providers collude to extort vulnerable patients. Last year, private firm Spire Healthcare was fined £1.2 million for price-fixing. While tens of thousands died unnecessarily, these fat cats lined their wallets with public money. 

A well-resourced NHS would render these one-sided ‘partnerships’ redundant. The private sector uses buzzwords like ‘collaboration’ and ‘partnership’ to hide the truth: this is a unity of the public purse with the bank accounts of the parasites. 

Although many corporations are keen to continue this lucrative set-up for years to come, they stand to make money even if these deals fall through. Long waiting lists encourage patients to go private to ‘skip the queue’.  

As one anonymous executive put it to the FT: “We don’t want to fill our hospitals with too much NHS work…the margins from private payers are much higher.”

This is the cold calculus of capitalism in medicine: margins matter more than treating disease. 

The Tories have been unashamedly complicit in colluding with the private sector. Health Secretary Matt Hancock used a private ‘VIP’ Whatsapp group to coordinate PPE deals with dubious companies. While under-paid, overworked staff were forced to wear bin-bags due to PPE shortages, one contract fixer was paid £21 million for his ‘services’.

The SNP have been more shamefaced about the privatisation in NHS Scotland. Tens of millions of pounds have been paid to profit-seeking private providers to expand health service capacity, while the SNP claims to have drawn a red line on profiteering in the NHS.

Decimated

Alongside ballooning waiting lists, it has been reported that there are 45,000 ‘missing cancer patients’ across the UK due to a drop in GP referrals and screening services. Cancers will inevitably be detected and treated later than they could have been, harming thousands. 

nhs hospital room

Even when these patients are referred to hospital, many will not be seen on time. While COVID may have exacerbated this problem, data shows that services have struggled with efficiently treating patients for many years. 

The health and social care sector has been decimated by over a decade of austerity, affecting resources and staff. The pathetic 1% pay rise offer for nurses is a spit in the face of those who sacrificed their lives to protect us. The 4% coughed up by the Scottish Government is not much better, and has provoked deep indignation among healthcare workers.

Even after our NHS staggers out of this pandemic, the colossal debts piled up during the pandemic will at some point need to be paid. The capitalist class will ensure that it will be workers – through cuts to their wages and their publicly-provided services – who will be made to pick up the bill. 

Emergency

nhs placard hospital

It is argued that private hospitals help to ‘take the burden’ off the NHS. But the NHS wouldn’t need such ‘help’ if the healthcare facilities currently in private hands were instead part of the NHS. And, of course, if the NHS was properly funded and resourced.

Let’s be clear: this health emergency is avoidable. Right now, millions are waiting for procedures that would relieve them of pain and anxiety. We should be using all the facilities at society’s disposal to clear this backlog safely and quickly. 

Instead, private hospital owners will only help if there is a guarantee of fat profits. They are effectively holding millions of the sick and vulnerable to ransom.

Instead of forking out millions from public funds to convince millionaire shareholders to help us, these companies should be urgently nationalised. In doing so, we could rapidly allocate resources to those in need. 

We say:

  • Nationalise all private sector healthcare assets without compensation!
  • Pay our health heroes a fair wage!
  • For a union-led mass recruitment drive of health workers!

Dr Raj Mistry, BMA (personal capacity), via Socialist Appeal

Fight the Pandemic Profiteers – Nationalise Big Pharma!

Millions of people around the world are jubilant that a COVID-19 vaccine might soon be available.

Bourgeois governments, prioritising capitalist profits over human lives, have utterly failed to contain this pandemic. The masses have no faith in politicians, and are pinning their hopes on a cure. But there is no cure for the sickness of the capitalist system, which will seek to profit from this breakthrough, to humanity’s detriment.

Uncertainty

Coronavirus Vaccine

The ruling class is eager for a working vaccine: not because it cares about people suffering, but because it wants to return to ‘normal’ economic activity. Thus, huge sums of public money have been invested in a variety of candidate drugs.

Two of these – one manufactured by Boston-based firm Moderna, and the other by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in collaboration with its German partner BioNTech – have produced interim results suggesting they are between 90 and 95 percent effective.

While these are encouraging figures, clinical trials are still not complete. On top of this, there is a process of submitting approvals before the vaccine can start being manufactured and distributed.

The timescale for a general rollout is not yet clear. The Tory government, for example, is stating that ‘key workers’ will be given priority. This does not include teachers, who are risking infection in crowded classrooms).

The rapid turnaround has also caused understandable concerns about safety, which might also hamper mass vaccination. The fault for this lies squarely with bourgeois governments, whose contradictory messaging and bungling of the crisis have undermined public trust.

Capitalist interests

Nevertheless, the optimism of the capitalist class was immediately reflected by a bounce on the stock market, with the FTSE 100 surging nearly 5 percent.

These desperately-needed vaccines represent a bonanza for the pharmaceutical capitalists and their shareholders. This includes, Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak, whose former hedge fund Theleme Partners has invested heavily in Moderna. This goes to show how the rotten bourgeois state is bound to capitalist interests by a thousand threads.

Meanwhile, the race for a vaccine has been cynically exploited as part of a geopolitical tug-of-war between bourgeois governments. The big imperialist powers are all vying for their capitalists to cross the line first, secure patents, and outcompete their rivals on the world stage.

Nevertheless, with COVID-19 cases skyrocketing around the world, these developments are a pinprick of light at the end of a dark tunnel for billions of workers struggling under the pandemic, and the economic turmoil it has provoked. But we should be under no illusions about the motives of the Big Pharma racket.

Pfizer and BioNTech stand to make $13bn (£9.8bn) from sales of their vaccine. The USA has ordered 100 million doses; the EU 200 million; and the UK 40 million.

Moderna has stated that it could manufacture anywhere between 500 million and one billion doses in 2021. This would generate between $14bn (£10.5bn) and $29bn (£22 bn) in profits for the company and its owners.

State support

Despite the private sector making a killing, all the vaccines undergoing stage three testing are reliant on public sector research and/or funding. Moderna, for example, was bankrolled by the Trump administration’s ‘Operation Warp Speed Initiative’.

Despite Pfizer claiming it has “never taken any money” from the state, the product it has created with BioNTech is based on technology developed by the US and German governments.

Russia’s Gam-Covid-Vac was developed by the Ministry of Health; and China’s stage three vaccines came from the Beijing Institute of Biological Products and the heavily-state-managed Sinovac company.

Far from driving innovation, the private medical sector merely leeches off the state, then pockets the rewards. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (who personally sold his stock of shares to the tune of $5.6m) dismissed the “radical” idea that companies should not expect to profit from a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Who is finding the solution? The private sector,” Bourla said. Another corporate spokesperson added: “From the beginning we have been investing at risk,” because Pfizer will only be paid for delivering a working vaccine.

But it is the workers who are risking their lives and livelihoods in the face of this deadly pandemic. Meanwhile, these fat-cats seek to enrich themselves using research and resources the public funded in the first place!

Property and profits

Prescription Drugs

In effect, Big Pharma expects ordinary people to pay for these vaccines twice. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be available in the US for $39 for a two-shot course, while Moderna’s will be $50.

Prices for countries other than the US are likely to vary as supply contracts are still being negotiated. But Moderna is already projecting a range of between $32 and $37 per dose. This fee will have to be covered by individuals, or otherwise swallowed by already overburdened public health services.

We have heard time and again that “we are all in this together”. But for the working class and poor, this is a sick joke.

This injustice is even starker in the so-called developing world. The richest countries have already bought up the lion’s share of doses of the leading candidate drugs. And there is little prospect of Big Pharma making its products available at manageable prices in poor countries. This would not be a profitable move.

Attempts by the governments of India and South Africa to prevent pharmaceutical companies from enforcing intellectual property rights until global immunity is reached were stonewalled by the Big Pharma lobby.

As Oxfam points out, regardless of promising clinical trial results, the vaccine will be “zero percent effective” for millions of people who will be priced out of its use.

Rollout

Another, neglected aspect of these vaccine announcements is the expensive question of their administration and storage once manufactured. It has been estimated that rolling out Pfizer’s vaccine in the UK, for example, would cost $2bn and take months. And this is assuming retired health workers are brought back in to help.

The early months of the pandemic revealed just how under-equipped healthcare systems are for a crisis like this, having been ravaged by austerity for decades.

The situation is far worse in less-developed countries. Nigeria, for example, has only 40,000 doctors compared to a population of nearly 200 million. How is a country with per capita healthcare expenditure of $74 (compared to £3,000 in the UK) supposed to pay for a mass vaccination programme? Or procure the expensive specialised freezers for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs to be stored at -75°C?

This requirement has also caused a headache in Britain, where disastrous Brexit negotiations raise the prospect of long queues of goods trucks at the border, in which these doses will somehow have to be maintained at super-low temperatures.

capitalism disease

Anarchy of capitalism

All this only serves as a reminder that production under capitalism is anarchic. Even for essential, life-saving goods – like vaccines against a deadly pandemic – the capitalist system produces only on the basis of profit, not out of concern for human life or need.

We say: nationalise the pharmaceutical companies – without compensation and under workers’ control, to guarantee a vaccine is made freely available! For a fully publicly-owned health service, under the control and management of healthcare workers themselves!

Ultimately, only a socialist planned economy on an international scale can guarantee that everyone can benefit from the advances of medical science, which must be freed from the stranglehold of profit.

by Dora Dimitrova and Joe Attard, Socialist Appeal