Health secretary Matt Hancock’s response to COVID-19 isn’t fooling anyone
Health secretary Matt Hancock is facing a barrage of criticism for his recent statements on the government’s response to coronavirus (COVID-19). As the pandemic grows, the government appears either incapable or just unwilling to respond effectively.
On 14 March, Hancock published a statement on the government’s COVID-19 policy. But in typical Tory fashion, he thought it would be a good idea to do so exclusively behind a (now lifted) paywall:
In a health emergency any statement from the Health Secretary should be in all papers and media outlets and not behind a pay wall. #coronavirus https://t.co/O4VaBFGIUl
— Diana Johnson MP (@DianaJohnsonMP) March 14, 2020
The health secretary publishing an article on how to combat a pandemic and putting it behind a paywall is probably the biggest metaphor for the Tory party ever
— Terry (@TerryM_91) March 14, 2020
Hancock claimed in his article that “herd immunity is not a part” of the government’s plan to deal with COVID-19. This directly contradicts the message chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance sent on BBC Radio 4 just days before on 13 March:
The Health Secretary @MattHancock said live on TV "herd immunity" is not government policy. For 48 hours Sir Patrick Vallance, the govts. chief scientific advisor had said it is THE government policy. The whole response from @BorisJohnson govt is shambolic #Marr #HighRiskCovid19 pic.twitter.com/v5oaEIbn4x
— One eighth of a mile (@EighthOfAMile_) March 15, 2020
Hancock claims that: “The over-riding objective is to protect life”. On 12 March, in a post-COBRA meeting press conference, the prime minister himself said “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time”.
On 15 March, appearing on Ridge on Sky News and then Marr on the BBC, Hancock admitted to the UK being unprepared for the toll this pandemic will take. Particularly he spoke of a shortage of ventilators and the trained staff needed to operate them:
Why didn’t Sophie Ridge ask Matt Hancock why we have so few ventilators & critical care beds compared to other countries. And why didn’t she point out that the idea we’d start manufacturing them ourselves, & training people to use them, in the midst of a pandemic is risible!
— Martin Shovel (@MartinShovel) March 15, 2020
As it stands, the UK has only 6.6 ventilator beds per 100k people, compared with 29.2 beds per 100k in Germany. In the midst of a pandemic where those most at risk usually die from respiratory failure, the lack of ventilator beds is worrying, to say the least.
Amid this chaos, the government’s ability to effectively deal with COVID-19 is becoming increasingly questionable:
The plan, so far, involves saying 'herd immunity' and then saying 'no herd immunity' two days later, claiming Rolls Royce are going to build ventilators (they're not), and the Health Secretary giving cosy little lobby briefings to favoured courtiers. That's the plan. So far.
— simon maginn (@simonmaginn) March 15, 2020
The fact remains that due to a decade of austerity inflicted by the Tories, the NHS is already facing an unprecedented crisis. One that no amount of urgent appeals for ventilators will fix:
Senior respiratory consultant: ‘We don’t have enough isolation rooms or ventilators..When Boris Johnson talks about our wonderful NHS and how well-prepared it is, that’s bullshit. He either doesn’t have a clue or is trying to falsely reassure people’https://t.co/2u3kJ2ozTo
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) March 15, 2020
Why don't the TV networks seeking Hunt's opinion on the CV outbreak ask him why, during the 6 years he was health secretary, he allowed the NHS to deteriorate to such an extent that it would now have difficulty in coping with even a mild epidemic
— will thorpe (@withorpe) March 13, 2020
What’s worse, the government is still putting private business interests first. At a time when the government should demand that private hospitals make their services available, it wants to funnel public funding towards private healthcare by ‘renting‘ bed spaces instead:
£300 per bed per day. I'm speechless. https://t.co/PwNunEIgrl
— The socialist sailor🌹 (@paulrob91017199) March 15, 2020
A better plan is possible
There are so many issues in successfully tackling the emerging crisis that Hancock hasn’t addressed. The importance of social distancing has been stressed repeatedly by scientists, but the government still won’t introduce social distancing, including school closures, for another 5 to 20 days. Testing could be made much more accessible based on the South Korea model, but the government is unwilling to put resources towards this. Instead the NHS is only prioritising testing for people at risk of falling severely ill from the disease. And through it all, people are facing additional anxiety over sick leave:
There's no statutory sick pay for part-time, low-paid or zero-hours contract workers.
And the rate of sick pay isn't enough to live on.
Wrong at any time – but dangerous while people who might be ill are asked to stay home.
The system is broken and now is the time to fix it.
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) March 14, 2020
I propose that we start by making sure folk on low incomes can eat/heat their homes/pay their rent during the crisis. We’ll address the concerns of billionaires at a later stage. https://t.co/zPOVh3jbTx
— Kirsty Strickland (@KirstyStricklan) March 14, 2020
And some people on Twitter actually seem to have a better plan to deal with the social impact of COVID-19 than the government itself:
All non-essential business should be shut down, and the remaining workers–grocery, pharmacy, delivery, etc–should be treated like first responders. They're on the front line, they should all get protective gear, extra pay, PTO as needed, and also enormous public gratitude.
— Tovarisch (@nwbtcw) March 13, 2020
In a time of so much uncertainty, one thing’s for sure. The UK may be among the world’s wealthiest countries. But the government needs to do a lot more for its people through this global health emergency.
Featured image via YouTube -Sky News
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