Thursday, 12 November 2020

Why Can't The Government Protect The Elderly?

The UK has seen COVID deaths go over 50,000. By far the largest group of those dying are residents of care homes. Already, the ONS reported that 20,000 care home residents had died from COVID, back in June. You might have thought that one excuse for imposing the lockdown was to provide time to put in place adequate systems to isolate places like care homes and hospitals, but no, we still see care homes as centres where COVID runs riot, along with hospitals. Yet, these should be precisely the places that are locked down, where the elderly and vulnerable within them are protected from contact with the virus. That they are not, and that instead they continue to be COVID killing fields is a national disgrace. This is far worse than the NHS scandals of previous years, where elderly people were left, lying in their own faeces, to starve, or suffer dehydration, or the scandal of the spread of MRSA, in NHS hospitals, that killed many people who had gone in for routine treatments. Why can't the government protect the elderly, why can't the NHS protect the sick? 

The latest ONS data shows a total of 56,698 COVID deaths in England and Wales. Of these, 23,745 were over 85 (42%); 18,463, 75-84 (33%); 8,479, 65-74 (15%); 5,382, 45-64 (9.5%); 623, 15-44 (1%); 4, 1-14 (0.007%); and 2 under 1 (0.004%). That is 75% over 75; 90% over 65. Most of the 9.5% in the 45-64 group is comprised of those over 60, meaning that around 99% of all deaths from COVID are people over 60. The average age of death is now 82, which is actually higher than the average life expectancy of the average British person! COVID 19 is clearly a disease of the elderly, and yet the government has continued to pursue the narrative that it is an illness that does not discriminate. In doing so, it has completely failed to concentrate resources on isolating and protecting the elderly, at the same time as imposing an idiotic lockdown on the rest of society that has caused the worst economic slowdown in 300 years, which threatens the lives and livelihoods of everyone, including the elderly. Yet, at the same time, it has failed to use that time to put in place the measures required to protect the elderly. Why? 

This is not even a question of class interest. The largest group of the elderly that have died from COVID are people who are already in care homes, the next largest group being elderly people in hospital, some of whom have gone there from care homes. Its not as though the government is somehow saving money by not putting in place the measures required to protect them. If it was a question of the government having to spend vast amounts on additional provision to cater for all of these elderly people, then an argument could be made that this is all just a question of capitalist logic, of failing to spend money on non-productive members of society. But, that is not the case. The money has already been spent. The care homes are built, staffed and equipped, so are the hospitals. This is not a question of saving money; its simply a question of using the existing resources rationally, to protect those within them. If anything, just simple common sense to put in place measures to isolate the elderly would cost the government less money. It would certainly mean it had not had to spend tens of billions on furlough payments, lose tens of billions in tax revenues, or pay out hundreds of billions in bail-outs to businesses that will be crucified by the economic fall-out. Capital has actually lost huge amounts in lost value production as a result of this crazy strategy. 

I again, listened to SAGE member Professor Mark Allport on TV yesterday, and his comments, perhaps, give some clue as to why the government is completely failing in this basic duty of care. Allport, questioned about who should get the vaccine first, was asked, would it not be better to give it, first, to people of working age, so that they could go about their business once more, because the elderly could just be isolated instead. In fact, as the ONS data, above, shows that would be ludicrous. Although lots of the under 60's contract coronavirus, only 1% of them die from it, many of them also being people who had other underlying medical conditions. There is no point spending billions of Pounds on vaccines for people who will only ever suffer mild cold like symptoms from coronavirus, because they could develop natural immunity to it for free, safely. The medical-industrial complex, would, of course, like to convince us that we need to spend these billions, because it feeds directly into its profits, and into expanding the bureaucratic empires of those involved in healthcare and medical science. 

But, this was not the argument put forward by Allport. His argument, once again, was that such a strategy was not possible, because its not possible to isolate the elderly. He repeated the argument that the elderly have to be cared for by younger people. Now, with all due respect to the Professor, I would suggest that this is bunkum. He is no doubt a highly intelligent person, but this seems to me like a case of failing to be able to use basic common sense, when it comes to translating that intelligence into practical action. Why on Earth, would he argue that its not possible to isolate and protect the elderly in care homes or hospitals? Surely those are precisely the places where they can, and should, be isolated and protected. When someone goes into hospital for an operation, we don't say, “Oh they can't be protected from their wounds becoming infected”. We ensure scrupulous hygiene in operating theatres and so on, to ensure that no such infection occurs, or at least we should, as the MRSA and C-Dif scandals showed, the NHS bureaucracy could not even get that right. 

So, why is it beyond the wit of Man to ensure that infectious people in hospital are placed in isolation wards; why can't hospital staff, and care home workers have the required PPE to ensure that they do not transmit the virus to those in their care? That would seem, to any rational person, using elementary common sense, the basic elements of preventing the spread of virus to the elderly and vulnerable, and the starting point of any standard operating procedure.  The answer is that these organisations are not designed to meet the needs of workers.  They are designed to meet the needs of capital, but often they are not even doing that.  On the one hand they meet the needs of a particular section of capital, that which dominates the medical-industrial complex, but also, they are dominated by self-serving bureaucracies that operate monopolies that feather their own nests.  This is not even a question of the lack of workers' control that would prevent such abuses, but even a lack of basic democratic control over the use of vast sums of social wealth.

Now, the conspiratorially minded might think that the government does not do this, because it wants to kill off the old and sick who are a burden on society. If that was the case, why then also impose the lockdowns, which has caused a much greater reduction in the production of value and surplus value, than they would save from the payment of pensions to the elderly. The tens of billions it has paid out in furlough payments as bribes to millions of workers not to work, and that it has now extended to next March, way exceed any savings in pensions it might make from killing off elderly people, many of whom, would have died anyway, given that the average age of death from COVID is greater than average life expectancy. No, that kind of conspiracy theory, and crude economic determinism does not wash. And, of course, the private care home companies make billions from their business, they have no desire to see their residents die off prematurely, as their payments die with them. 

No, the government's failure to protect the elderly comes down to basic incompetence. But, that incompetence is compounded by the fact that it, and its scientific advisors became like a rabbit frozen in the headlights of the car about to run over it, when the coronavirus, and, more specifically, the moral panic surrounding it, was sprung on them. In those conditions, the medical-industrial complex seized the day. It saw the prospect for huge earning potential. Billions have been made from useless testing kits, useless testing software, all dressed up in scientific language, about the need to suppress the virus by mass testing and tracing, when the reality is that no such strategy could ever work. And, to get the breathing space required, lockdowns were supposed to be an interim measure, just as test and trace was to be an interim until such time as a vaccine arrived as a saviour, a vaccine, which, given that 80% of the population does not need it because they are basically asymptomatic, and would, if they caught the virus, develop immunity for free, is again just another huge cash cow for the companies producing it. 

The government and its advisors, who are themselves deeply enmeshed in the medical-industrial complex, in the same way that, government Ministers, bureaucrats and scientists are deeply enmeshed in the military-industrial complex, became pushed into a narrative that COVID represented some existential threat to society, when, in fact, it does not. It represents an existential threat to the over 60's, and the over 80's in particular, but not to society as a whole. It is no more a threat than was the 1968 Flu Pandemic, for example, and less so than the 1918 Spanish Flu. Given that 99% of those that have died have been people in that elderly age range, to have closed down large sections of society, and of the economy, with the damage that has caused was crazy. But, the government and its advisors had committed to that course of action, and having done so, could not break free from it. 


George Carty said...

What are your thoughts on this article, which suggests that the race for a Covid vaccine (to which lockdowns have given a money-no-object urgency, comparable to the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb before the Nazis could) may be all about saving the pharmaceutical industry?

The Pharma Industry is Doomed. Their gold mine is about to play out

Boffy said...

I'm not a chemist, (my Mother worked in a pharmacy, and I did apply for a job once working in a lab, though) so I'm not qualified to say. However, my initial feeling is that its wrong.

There are always lines of development that reach a point where marginal costs rise faster than marginal revenues, and so where profits get squeezed. Marxists see these short run marginal-cost rises as simply feeding into a longer-run falling marginal cost curve. The reason being that as the facts that lead to these rising marginal costs begin to manifest, firms look for new cost reducing technologies, that always involve a shift to a higher level of production, which brings economies of scale etc.

We know that, because antibiotics have been oversubscribed, and misused, a lot of bacteria has mutated to become resistant, meaning that ever new antibiotics need to be developed, which gets harder and more costly. But antibiotics are not the only solution. In some parts of the world, phages have been used rather than antibiotics. But, the other main arena for development is genetic therapeutics, not to mention, nano-technologies.

What is collapsing is the old mass production Fordist model of healthcare that the NHS, and other socialised systems are based on. That tied into the provision of mass produced drugs by the pharma companies as the backbone of he medical-industrial complex. Now, with cheap quick DNA sequencing, its possible to provide individual tailored healthcare for each individual, in the same way you can now go online to build your own car, and have it delivered to your door by the manufacturer. 5G, and AI, means that your body can be constantly monitored, in the same way a car's engine, tyres and so on are constantly monitored, diagnosed, and fault checked. For anyone with diagnosed conditions, it will be possible to have either genetic modification, or to have medicines administered in precise doses as required, as with Diabetes now. But, within the next ten years, drug companies will be producing nano-technology that will go into the bloodstream, and mechanically target cells, killing off infected, or damaged cells, and protecting healthy cells. In other words a shift from chemical solutions to mechanical solutions.

The cost of all these solutions, as has happened with he cost of DNA sequencing, will fall so low, that everyone will be able to take out a subscription to such a service in the same way that today, you take out a subscription to Netflix or Amazon, BT etc., and tailor your package to your requirements. These are the massive growth areas of the economy in th next decade.

George Carty said...

Why hasn't the government run a public information campaign encouraging the elderly (and other groups likely to be deficient, such as black men and Muslim women) to take vitamin D supplements? To me such a campaign seems like it would have a very favourable cost/benefit ratio where Covid (and other respiratory viral infections) are concerned.

Boffy said...

I don't know, you'd have to ask them. I suspect its because a) they don't want to be tarred with the same brush as Trump of advocating quack cures, rather than being seen to be taking draconian measures to prevent transmission, and because they want to emphasise the need for suppression until such time as a vaccine is available, b) because picking out specific groups means acknowledging that the virus is not one that affects everyone equally, and so undermines that narrative required to justify lockdowns, c) picking out different groups always leaves governments open to charges of discrimination themselves - even where the discrimination is positive so as to protect that particular group (privileging some groups to get vaccines before others will undoubtedly cause such ructions). d) if Vitamin D worked, its much cheaper than vaccines and other drugs, and wholly at odds with the mentality of the medical-industrial complex based upon the concept of healthcare as the treatment of ill-health rather than prevention of ill-health and promotion of wellness, and which, therefore, comes to be identified with very expensive, high-tech solutions, reliant upon that medical-industrial complex.

Don't get me wrong, the big pharma and other medical science companies will produce the new ranges of commodities that will be life-changing in the coming decade - but the military-industrial complex did the same with electronic, mechanical and materials science in the post-war period too. It doesn't mean that these complexes do not drain vast amounts of value and surplus value from the economy, as a result of monopolies and bureaucracies and that they do so at the expense of other areas of the economy. The Marxist position on this holds, as against the petty-bourgeois position. It demonstrates why the components of these complexes need to be under workers' control, to ensure that development is done in the interests of society, not of company profits, or the prestige, and remuneration of bureaucratic empire builders.