Capitalism is making hospitals sick, not Covid

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
December 13, 2021

For months, all the debates on health have been about Covid and vaccination. For months, the government has been moralizing to the population about barrier gestures and the health pass. And, in the meantime, it’s doing nothing for hospitals.

More and more cities are being hit by the temporary closure of emergency departments, including pediatrics in the middle of the bronchiolitis epidemic. Many departments are working at half or three-quarter capacity. Under these circumstances, it’s impossible to clear the backlog resulting from de-scheduled treatment and operations.

It’s a permanent state of crisis but it’s not due to Covid. It’s due to sick leave, to resignations and to the many vacant positions in hospitals. The health minister is downplaying the crisis by disagreeing with the 20% bed-closure figure that several officials have given. But he does acknowledge that hospitals currently have fewer beds than in March 2020.

In other words, hospitals are less well equipped to deal with the fifth wave than they were for the first. Those responsible for the catastrophe are in power and not to be found among the non-vaccinated!

Many people, healthcare workers and population alike, had hoped that the health crisis would give hospitals the wake-up call they needed. 120,000 deaths, de-scheduling plus lack of material and personnel had all shown the dangers of accounting-based hospital management. The workers who had been applauded for their self-sacrifice and their bravery hoped to be listened to at last. But they weren’t. Post-Covid was a rude awakening.

The government claims to have done plenty with its Ségur de la santé1 but the bonuses paid out are simply stardust and haven’t stopped staff from leaving due to low salaries and increasingly difficult working conditions. The new influx of Covid patients is plunging healthcare workers back into crisis management with everything that this entails in terms of overwork, exhaustion and stress.

Health Minister Véran is justifying the lack of healthcare workers saying it takes years to train them. But he could start by paying them enough to stop them from going to work in private clinics and medical practices!

And he should also explain why the number of places in nursing schools has barely increased over the last two years and why there are still only limited finances for hospital in-house training! It’s hard to believe that in two years, it’s been impossible to train the necessary lab technicians, stretcher carriers and receptionists / reception assistants. Tens of thousands of young people are struggling between odd jobs and unemployment and would be happy to commit to this kind of work if they were given the financial means for training.

There are staffing and equipment shortages because the government, like its predecessors, is running the hospital system like a business. Instead of providing care, staff are required to make money and work as if they were on an assembly line. This means being overworked, being called back from rest and vacation days, work schedules and shifts being changed, being moved to other departments and contempt from management…

Hospital workers are treated in a similar way to workers in many companies because there is no sector that isn’t subjected to the law of profit. In public hospitals, this doesn’t take the form of shareholders demanding dividends but that of budget restrictions, financial indicators and artificial profitability criteria. Why? Because capitalists are happy as long as they can make money from any business they do with hospitals, whilst demanding that the government reduce public spending.

Their race for profit is slowly killing hospitals. It’s also what’s stopping the lifting of patent agreements on anti-Covid vaccines and is holding up the fight against the pandemic. It’s what causes mass unemployment, job insecurity and weighs heavily on wages. It’s why humans and the environment are not respected.

But the law of profit is not a law of nature, it’s a law made by the bourgeoisie, the only class that wants things to stay the same. When workers, through their struggles, become aware that they have the strength to impose their own laws and organize society to answer their needs and those of the majority, the race for profit will no longer have reason to exist.

Nathalie Arthaud

1 The Ségur de la santé is the name of the government’s latest plan claiming to improve things in the hospital system. It included a monthly pay rise of 183 euros for 1.5 million health workers, leaving out tens of thousands of them.