New report shows how NHS privatisation played a key role in ‘turning the pandemic into an utter disaster’

NHS Not Safe Banner
Support us and go ad-free

A new report suggests privatisation is at the core of the scandal surrounding Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortages during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic in the UK. In particular, the breaking up of the NHS Supply Chain into 11 outsourced contracts affected the ability of the NHS to get and distribute enough PPE.

Privatisation a key player in ‘turning the pandemic into an utter disaster’

Instead of in-house NHS employees handling supplies, the report reveals, private companies have been in charge. These suppliers then bring in other private organisations to make required items before getting private logistics firms to pass them on to NHS trusts. Rather than sourcing PPE locally, meanwhile, NHS trusts reportedly have to go through this centralised system.

Key authors of the report include campaign group We Own It and the University of Greenwich’s Prof David Hall. And their report claims privatising the sourcing of NHS supplies has helped to create a “fundamentally dysfunctional system” which has “severely undermined the national effort to protect NHS and care staff” and “helped turn the pandemic into an utter disaster”.

Hall stressed that:

Privatisation of the NHS supply chain has created a complex, fragmented, unresponsive and bureaucratic mess which has left us unprepared and ill equipped to tackle the current crisis. So much responsibility has been outsourced to so many contractors that the secretary of state literally cannot know what he is doing. It is shocking that [one company alone] … has been deciding how to spend over £4billion of the NHS budget.

The entire system must be simplified and brought under direct NHS control, with clear lines of accountability. This is work which should be done by civil servants employed by the NHS, responsive to the needs of their fellow-workers in the NHS, with a public service culture of prioritising safety, long term planning and smart use of skills and resources within the NHS, local communities and the local manufacturing sector.

Public vs private priorities

One problem in particular that the report highlights is how logistics contractors focus on trying to reduce stock levels. This risks a lack of preparation for unpredictable crises like the coronavirus pandemic. The report insists that the stockpile of key PPE items before the current crisis was insufficient; that it took the government until February to ‘pause the rundown’ of these stocks; and that there were warnings in place that ‘excessive’ orders from the NHS for PPE “may be subject to automatic system reduction… or cancelled”.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

The report also makes specific criticisms of numerous private companies involved in handling supplies and coronavirus testing centres. Speaking about their failures, We Own It director Cat Hobbs said:

It is beyond scandalous that so much of the coronavirus response has been handed over to private companies – companies that have failed time and time again to deliver. … these companies should be kept well away from our NHS.

This crisis has shown us that the NHS is made far more vulnerable by privatisation, and so many failings – from the failure to distribute sufficient PPE to the ineffective approach to testing  – lie at the door of private companies.

From now on, we need to ensure that our NHS is run in the interest of public health, not private profit. In doing so, the government needs to reinstate it as a fully publicly owned and run health service.

The Canary approached the Department of Health and Social Care for comment, but it hadn’t responded by the time of publication.

Featured image via Garry Knight

Support us and go ad-free

Get involved

  • Read the full report here.

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us