The hospital crisis is behind the public health crisis

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
October 5, 2020

Bars and sports halls are being locked down again and so are community centers in some areas and swimming pools in others. Only half the number of enrolled students are being allowed to attend university classes. Even if such decisions are being made locally, region by region, they’re following the same pattern everywhere: more and more restrictions are being announced and the anxiety of contaminating our loved ones is rising. This is a confirmation of failure and a sign of the deficiencies in the government’s policy.

The general population, on the other hand, has been making a lot of efforts. Physical distancing, face masks and health protocols have reduced the speed of contamination. As a result, the second wave has been less intense so far than the first one in March and April. With the help of experience, healthcare workers now know how to better treat patients. This should help them face the situation more easily. But that’s not the case at all!

The government is overwhelmed because its “test, trace and isolate” prevention campaign was a fiasco but mostly because it has done nothing to equip hospitals and get them ready to face a new flow of patients.

Everyone knew that hospitals would be under a lot of pressure this fall. In addition to the anticipated second wave, they have to catch up on the backlog of operations that have been postponed. They have to take care of the usual illnesses that break out every fall such as the seasonal flu. And all of that has to be done by tired-out staff who, like everyone else, risk falling ill with Covid-19.

No extra hospital beds have been opened up in intensive care and no extra personnel has been provided in other services since March! And some hospitals still have to cancel operations to avoid saturation!

After being applauded, hospital workers are being required to sacrifice their days off and go back to work even if they’ve tested positive for Covid-19. They’re being sent back to the front again with no reinforcements. In some hospitals they’re still running around looking for respirators! In other words, they’re having to work themselves to death!

Once again, the hospital crisis is blowing up in our faces. This is not a new situation. Hospital staff have been sounding the alarm for years because, even when there’s no particular risk to public health, hospitals are permanently on a razor’s edge. It’s the result of one hundred thousand hospital beds being closed down in 20 years, fewer workers being hired and more healthcare professionals leaving because wages are indecently low and working conditions are increasingly unbearable.

The government swears that it’s prepared to reopen hospital beds but that nurses cannot possibly be trained in six months. Now that is a lie by omission because the number of spots in nursing schools hasn’t changed in six months. Plus, wages could have been increased to stop doctors and nurses from massively leaving hospitals. Their workload could have been eased by hiring more staff.

If nurses and doctors can’t be trained in six months, hospital orderlies, stretcher-bearers and non-medical staff can be, and they are sorely needed. And it would be possible to start training thousands of healthcare aides.

But more than a matter of time, it’s a matter of political decision-making. In just a few days, the government has put hundreds of billions of euros on the table to help the economy. For hospitals and state-run retirement homes, just like for all spending that’s useful to people but doesn’t make profit, the government is stingy, and it will never stop being stingy. The state is formatted and organized to preserve profits and profitability and serve the financial markets at no matter what cost, not to meet the needs of the population.

After what we’ve gone through and what hospital workers have gone through, it’s scandalous to see what’s happening in hospitals and state-run retirement homes. More staff must be hired! It’s outrageous that there’s “too much work to do in hospitals and too many jobless workers waiting outside” as one sign read in a demonstration last June. There are tens, hundreds, thousands of people, young and old, who need a job and want to be made useful. But such jobs will only be created if the working class and those who are suffering the situation fight for them.

The government is saying it’s all a matter of individual responsibility and putting the blame on young adults who party too much and on those who participate in family gatherings. But the government is running a state and defending a social order and a social class which are irresponsible in terms of our collective well-being. There is nothing to expect from it.