Covid and the hospital crisis: an irresponsible government guided by the law of profit

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
December 27, 2021

A Health Defence Council followed by an extraordinary meeting of Cabinet ministers… “The virus is moving faster but so are we”. In spite of the fine words uttered by Gabriel Attal, the government spokesman, not much is accelerating, apart from the pace of governmental meetings…

The main measure supposed to slow down the increasingly rapid progression of the epidemic with the arrival of the Omicron variant, is the transformation of the health pass into a vaccination pass. Can this tightening up, which will further restrict the life of some five million unvaccinated people, really halt the Omicron surge? It’s not a sure thing. Since the onset of the health crisis, the government has not once implemented a policy enabling hospitals to cope with the epidemic. On the contrary, even as the coronavirus spread, it continued to close beds (more than 5,700 in 2020). With the result that the healthcare system today is even less able to cope with the situation than at the start of the Covid wave two years ago!

For want of the necessary resources, the government continues to play Russian roulette with the population’s health. Health Minister Olivier Véran himself recently recalled that, at the height of the epidemic, hospital workers who tested positive for the virus were asked to come in and work all the same! Far from taking serious measures to preserve public health, Macron persists in making a diversion which consists in blaming the epidemic on the unvaccinated and designating them as scapegoats.

The current health crisis is making the already dramatic situation of hospitals even worse – a situation caused by the austerity budgets imposed for decades by all governments. But the presidents and ministers themselves have been no more than puppets in that evolution, obeying the parasitic demands of bankers and financiers.

With the complicity of successive governments, finance has been allowed more and more to penetrate the public hospital system which had been preserved from the logic of short-term profit for a long time. By introducing “fee-for-service” payment, which distinguishes medical treatments and operations according to their cost, the logic of profitability was brought into the health system. Hospitals were forced to work like private companies, with the same financial criteria when it comes to the management of personnel, implying cuts in staff and wage freezes.

Overwork and insufficient pay: there’s nothing mysterious behind the staff shortage in hospitals. Of course a great number of doctors, nurses, and orderlies prefer to work in clinics and private hospital chains where they are offered higher salaries. These private groups have flourished by grabbing the most profitable operations, while public hospitals have been left with the kind of care that capitalists are not interested in: dealing with poor people... or people contaminated with Covid. And as the saturation of public hospitals looms once again, no one even evokes the possibility of subjecting private clinics to the same obligations!

The way capitalism essentially works, with the permanent search for profit as its driving force, is the main reason behind the current collapse of the health system. The same logic prevents the lifting of patents on vaccines, excluding the poorest countries from access to them and thus threatening the whole planet with the peril of new variants.

Humanity is at present incapable of ending the epidemic for the same reasons it cannot end the economic crisis: unemployment, under-development and famine. Most of these problems, including the climate crisis, could be solved given the high level of science and technology – on condition that scientific and technological tools are liberated from the capitalists’ control and from their race for profit. There is only one remedy to save society from disaster: the expropriation of the capitalist class to bring the economy under the control of the people. By making this their goal, only the workers can open up a progressive perspective for mankind.

Nathalie Arthaud