To deal with MRSA – end NHS privatisation!

Palestinians on a demonstration in Athens against the war on Iraq
Palestinians on a demonstration in Athens against the war on Iraq

MRSA is now linked to nearly 1,000 deaths each year in NHS hospitals. There is no doubt that it is a product of the Tory and Labour drive to privatise the NHS.

The Tories brought in the Private Finance Initiative and, along with the building of private hospitals that are leased to the NHS, introduced the privatisation of the ancillary, cooking, cleaning, laundry and portering services.

Every PFI hospital has far less beds than the hospitals that it replaced, and the privatisation of the ancillary services means that there is a lot less cleaning, laundry, catering and portering staff, who are sometimes on short fixed term contracts.

Hospitals even brought in what they called the generic worker. This is a worker who does all of the various jobs, who is at one moment preparing food and the next making beds, cleaning the wards or mopping the floors.

Labour in 1997 took this policy over and not only embraced it as its own but accelerated it. The end result is dirty hospitals everywhere – with far less beds and wards available, far less cleaning and ancillary staff who are now all working for private contractors – and the rise of the super bugs, MRSA and the others.

The Labour Party’s ‘solution’ is just to appear to be doing something about the problem that it has created, with an announcement by the Department of Health that it will be sending ‘hit squads’ into the 20 NHS trusts with the worst record on tackling MRSA

In fact, half of the NHS trusts in England are making very poor progress towards a target to cut MRSA infections by 50 per cent by 2008.

So poor is the progress that there were 3,689 MRSA cases in hospitals from October 2004 to March 2005. This is up by 55 compared to the same period the previous year.

The problem is getting worse.

Yesterday, Health Minister, Ms Kennedy stressed that MRSA ‘only affected’ a tiny fraction of the 12 million patients admitted to NHS hospitals yearly, and that more cases were being reported because of better monitoring.

The ‘tiny fraction’ of 12 million patients will not find her words consoling, especially if MRSA infection has resulted in a loss of a limb or limbs.

One of the tasks of the ‘MRSA crack teams’ is to diagnose what is preventing hospitals from reducing the number of MRSA cases and develop practical action plans.

The ‘crack teams’ will probably blame the NHS staff, since the real cause and solution to the crisis is completely unacceptable to the Labour government.

In fact, it is Labour’s privatisation policy for the NHS that has created the worst MRSA epidemic in the EU.

A big chunk of the NHS budget now goes directly into the coffers of the private medical industry. The NHS is left to struggle with the rest. The NHS ‘market’ means that every operation has to be billed, and the more successful trusts are in clearing waiting lists, the more in debt the NHS trust gets, while the PFI means that huge sums have to be paid back to the private owners of the hospital every year – all making for an NHS that is getting deeper and deeper into debt and bankruptcy.

Labour’s answer to this crisis is to close hospitals, close wards, cut beds, sack staff and create much more overcrowded and dirty hospitals where beds are at a premium and MRSA strengthens its grip.

The way to drive MRSA out of the NHS is to halt the privatisation process. This means getting the private sector out of the NHS, abolishing foundation hospitals, ending the PFI and the massive repayments that go with it, while increasing the NHS budget and bringing all ancillary services back under the NHS.

To do this means the trade unions organising action to bring down the Blair government to go forward to a workers’ government that will carry out socialist policies.