Hancock’s claim that ‘no NHS workers died from lack of PPE’ must be met with a general strike to kick him and the Tories out!

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TORY Health Secretary Matt Hancock was grilled for four hours by two Parliamentary Committees on Thursday, in which he insisted that ‘There was never a point at which NHS providers couldn’t get access to PPE (Personal Protection Equipment).’

This is despite over 1,000 doctors, nurses and NHS staff getting infected with Covid-19 and dying. Hancock cited a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) to support this claim.

The report says: ‘The NHS provider organisations we spoke to told us that, while they were concerned about the low stocks of PPE, they were always able to get what they needed in time.’ But the very next sentence says: ‘However, this was not the experience reported by many frontline workers.’

Frontline staff were screaming that they did not have enough gloves, aprons, masks and visors. Back in November 2020 at the height of the pandemic, GP practices in Scotland were sent ‘official’ PPE aprons made from ‘repurposed bin bags’.

The GMB union said that at one stage GMB NHS members were issued with official emergency guidance actual advising people to reuse disposable PPE.

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, alleged: ‘Matt Hancock either has no idea what happened under his watch during the pandemic, or he is lying through his teeth. Many were left terrified for their lives treating Covid positive patients with either inadequate or non-existent PPE. It appears Mr Hancock is either too incompetent or too untrustworthy to remain Health Secretary.’

In his evidence to the Parliamentary committees on Thursday, Hancock claimed: ‘There is no evidence that I have seen that a shortage of PPE provision led to anybody dying of Covid.’ The families of the over 1,000 NHS workers that have died are furious at Hancock’s comments. During the height of the pandemic, shocking photos of exhausted nurses wearing yellow-coloured waste bags on their heads at Northwick Park Hospital in north west London were seen by millions.

Massive protests and marches of nurses and doctors and NHS staff broke out around the country. At the hospital where Tory PM Johnson was treated there was particular anger. At St Thomas’, the nurses marched with a banner demanding 15% pay rise. They also carried placards depicting Health Secretary Hancock and PM Johnson as clapping with blood on their hands.

They highlighted the hypocrisy of Johnson waxing lyrical about ‘our NHS heroes’, calling for a ‘clap for carers’, while at the same time putting them frontline without adequate protection.

To add insult to injury, once the worst of the pandemic had subsided, rather than offer NHS workers a pay rise, the government announced a ‘pay rise’ for nurses of just 1%. Considering inflation is above 1%, this represents a real-terms pay cut, something the nurses’ union the RCN described as a ‘kick in the teeth’. They immediately set aside a £35m strike fund and have promised to call a ballot to demand a 12.5% pay rise.

Hancock’s ‘defence’ throughout his four-hour grilling was that he was ‘doing his best in a difficult situation’ and that they were unprepared and had to ‘build the testing and tracing capacity from scratch’ and find new ways of acquiring PPE.

However, it emerged yesterday that not only was there one study in 2016, Exercise Cygnus, a flu pandemic scenario, that tested the NHS capabilities to deal with a disease outbreak, but that there were actually 10 pandemic planning exercises in the five years before Covid-19. One such previously unpublicised study, Exercise Alice, took place in 2016 and envisioned an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which is caused by a coronavirus.

They were warned time and time again and they chose not only to do absolutely nothing about ensuring that there were stockpiles of PPE and testing capacity, but set about attacking the NHS.

The Tories have shut A&Es, maternity and children’s departments up and down the country, axed student midwives’ and nurses’ bursaries, attacked the junior doctors and privatised services.

This government spent eleven years dismantling and privatising the NHS, and then when the pandemic hit, they were more concerned about attempting to save the UK economy than saving the lives of workers and their families. This is the very essence of this government and indeed of capitalism as a whole.

Profit before anything else, including human life. The trade unions must immediately call a general strike to bring this government down and go forward to a socialist society that will restore and then develop the NHS for the future.