Opinion: We have turned our NHS into a just-in-time organisation

Crouch End's David Winskill points out some inequalities highlighted by coronavirus.

Crouch End's David Winskill points out some inequalities highlighted by coronavirus. - Credit: Archant

We’re starting to find out more about what it means to be under attack from a brand new virus.

Last week, on the W5 bus, as the older chap sitting next to me grabbed the handrail to haul himself up to let me pass, he draped his voluminous scarf round his hand to avoid contact with the bright yellow rail.

The slow moving queue in our Waitrose is now welcomed by a strategically placed display of sanitising gels and soaps to spontaneously purchase as it shuffles to the checkouts.

A charity shop on the Broadway has a bottle of sanitizer under the counter for use by staff.

Over on eBay, a seller is hawking two dozen 60ml bottles of alcohol based gel for £250: I'd prefer to invest in a case of decent single malt which still sanitises but tastes considerably better.

Gradually, we are becoming aware of the little changes to lifestyles and the way the country has and will adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are using terms like herd immunity, social transmission and distinguishing how this virus is, and isn't, like our familiar winter 'flu.

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And, we are all getting a much better appreciation of just how connected families, communities and nations are.

If I self-isolate... who will keep me in bread and milk and corned beef? Who will run to the pharmacy for my prescription? What happens if my partner gets ill? If I order a take away, will anyone deliver it?

Imagine you are one of the almost five million gig-economy workers who drive cabs, serve us at table, wipe bottoms, and deliver curries, hand sanitiser and Talisker.

Feeling a little chesty and with an elevated temperature, you call 111 and are told to self-isolate.

With bills to pay, do you crawl under the duvet or glug down a smoothie then hop on the scooter?

These workers are vital to society but are excluded (despite Boris's limited concessions on sick pay, ungenerously described by Nigel Farage as 'a skiver's charter') from the employment benefits that most of us take for granted.

Fifty years ago, St Aloysius' teacher Mr Quinn spent almost two terms attempting to explain the supply chain to me - well before just-in-time delivery was invented.

Newsnight is again explaining it and revealing the precarious position many industries find themselves in as the Chinese world factory quietly shuts down and just-in-time logistics threaten to grind to a halt.

If schools are closed, it is mainly women who will pick up the child care.

And it is women who provide so much of the hands-on care in the NHS and in residential and home settings. Take them out of the equation and who looks after the frail and sick?

But the most worrying thing is how we have turned our NHS into a just-in-time organisation. No idle beds for us: some of the major London teaching hospitals have a bed occupancy rate of 98 per cent. The UK has about 200 beds per 100k of population compared to 600 in Germany.

Our brilliant public health leaders are doing a fine job in navigating us through this crisis.

It is time that we look again the inequalities that we have built into our society and economy and move away from the short-termism that has left us so vulnerable.