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From The Socialist newspaper, 1 April 2020

NHS supply chain worker: privatisation has cut equipment quantity and quality

Workers need coronavirus protection, photo USAF/CC

Workers need coronavirus protection, photo USAF/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Terrified staff across the NHS are risking their health and lives treating coronavirus patients without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Barry Boden, an NHS Supply Chain worker, spoke to the Socialist about how privatisation and the pursuit of profit have impacted the shortage of quality PPE.

NHS Supply Chain provides daily medical and non-medical items to hospitals in England and Wales. We were privatised in 2006 and handed over to the multinational courier firm DHL, whose main aim was to make 'savings'.

Then, in 2018, DHL failed to win the new contract for warehousing and distribution, resulting in a fragmentation into 13 different contracts for procurement, warehouse and distribution, marketing, etc. The biggest was won by Unipart, better known for supplying components to the motor industry.

There's a managing company, Supply Chain Coordination Ltd, which sets our contracts on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care. But the divisions, and poor planning, have exacerbated the current problems.

Caught out

Preparing for Brexit, our stocks were built up, and new warehouses were opened. Then, in January, management started to reduce our stock levels - right at the time that the Covid-19 outbreak was happening in China! Now we have been completely caught out.

For the last 30 years we've been told to use the 'just-in-time' principle for supplying NHS trusts and maintaining stock levels in the network. So when there's a major outbreak, such as now, the system is already at full capacity, and therefore struggles to meet the extra demand.

Austerity has affected our operations, just as it has across the NHS. Cost-cutting has meant less experienced staff and managers, an over-reliance on agency personnel, reduced warehouse maintenance, and an underfunded internal transport system, causing logistic delays in moving stock around the network.

When I started working for NHS Supply Chain, I recall sitting down with a range of medical goods, such as wound dressings, with experienced nurses in front of us giving their clinical opinions, saying 'that's good, that's not good'.

Now the decisions are profit-driven, with much less medical input in the procurement and tendering process. This is part of why the quality of the PPE getting through to frontline staff has been so poor.

Our members have been working longer shifts for the last three months, with some already clocking up 60 extra hours plus in March, to try to provide hospitals with their PPE and normal daily medical requirements.

The PPE for NHS frontline staff has now moved to a third party, under the control of the NHS with the support of the army. But fragmentation, privatisation and a profit-led management have helped to create the current crisis in PPE.

Clinical oversight of equipment procurement must be reinstated. Massive funding for purchasing and manufacturing PPE must be made available now. Privatisation must be scrapped, and NHS Supply Chain brought back in-house, under a fully funded and democratically planned NHS.

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Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 1 April 2020:

Coronavirus news

NHS workers speak out: austerity has left us unprepared

Schools: union oversight needed to end chaos in provision under coronavirus

Councils must use resources now for emergency response

NHS supply chain worker: privatisation has cut equipment quantity and quality

Self-isolation class divide: decent homes for all!

Fully fund hospices to care for vulnerable children

Scandalous conditions in food distribution centre

Coronavirus news in brief

World War Two

All in this together? The 'Blitz spirit' myth

What we think

PPE, tests, full pay - for all now

Labour must resist 'Covid coalition': Workers need their own voice and party

Emergency legislation: Trade unions must be on guard against attacks on workers' interests

Food supply and the coronavirus crisis

Capitalism means empty shelves, food insecurity, and soaring profits - the case for a socialist alternative

Workplace news

Key workers should make bold demands

Essential workers deserve more

Working in Mike Ashley's empire: After lockdown we won't forget how we've been treated

Hull construction workers force bosses to shut down site over health and safety fears

Bosses concede to walkouts in Northern Ireland

Bus drivers halt sackings - now restore our pay

Postal workers walk out over health, safety and junk mail

Working from home during the pandemic

Leicester: Nylacast worker exposes truth

Refuse collection workers strike


Fight for safety, staffing and services - Covid chaos for benefits claimants

More than ever, we need accountable union leaders


Help us continue to fight for workers and socialism

Building the Socialist Party

Readers' opinion

Going viral - Socialist letters and comments on the coronavirus crisis


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