The NHS stands on the brink of a catastrophic breakdown.
Hospitals across Britain are full to the brim with Covid-19 patients fighting for breath. Doctors have even been forced to turn away ambulances from their wards because they are desperately short of oxygen.
And in Birmingham, Essex, London and Oxford, even the most seriously ill are being treated in ambulances outside logjammed emergency departments.
One doctor told ITV news that conditions in her Oxford hospital were like “nothing I’ve ever experienced before”.
“Because there are no visitors, no one can see what it’s like now,” she said.
“We are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients. The numbers are greater than they were in April. We have patients being treated in ambulances outside the hospital because there isn’t a bed in the hospital for them.
“And the patients we’re seeing are younger. Many are in their 20s and 30s and are now on a ventilator with Covid.
“Staff are exhausted. They are working through unimaginable peaks of exhaustion. You want to stop. You want to cry. But you can’t, so you carry on.
“Many frontline staff haven’t yet been vaccinated, so you know that every hour you are there, you are risking your life.”
Even if an array of drastic emergency measures are taken immediately it is likely that parts of the health service will collapse – and many, many people will die unnecessarily.
On Wednesday Britain recorded 981 coronavirus-related deaths, the highest daily figure since April. Infection rates soared to 50,023 new cases.
And the situation could worsen if the Tories push school, college and university students to return without proper safety measures in place. A YouGov poll on Wednesday showed that 67 percent of people backed closing schools for two weeks across England.
Pressure is pushing the Tories to retreat. But they may still only delay some students’ return while expecting others, such as primary pupils, to be back in classrooms next week. Any drive back to unsafe schools, college and universities will only spell further disaster.
Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock have tried to blame the current crisis on the new, more infectious version of coronavirus. But many health workers say there would be devastation in the NHS even if the new strain had not emerged.
The Tories have presided over years of health service cuts that mean the system can barely cope with normal “winter pressures”.
The NHS went into the crisis short of 122,000 full time, permanent staff – including 41,000 nurses and 10,000 doctors. Yet the government has made it more expensive to train and won’t raise salaries or improve working conditions to attract more new starters.
It has even made it harder for health staff to come from abroad and work in Britain. And it has refused to aid any of the 600 qualified doctors who are refugees from helping with the crisis.
Many health workers are seething with anger at this repeated pattern of failure.
“There can be no excuses for this,” one London paramedic told Socialist Worker. “The first wave of Covid-19 told us what was coming but the government didn’t prepare.
“They should have used the summer, when infection levels were lower, to prepare in every possible way for the coming wave. Everyone could see it coming. Everyone except Boris Johnson.
“Every move they’ve made has been forced out of them. They only brought in Tier 4 restrictions because they were under huge pressure from scientists and others.
“Wasting that time means the virus has spread. Now lots of staff are off work, either with Covid-19 or because they have to isolate, and that is adding to the pressure.
“We simply can’t keep up with the demand.”
Panicked health bosses are responding to the crisis by trying to make everyone work harder and longer.
Some are offering big financial inducements for overtime shifts. Others are axing booked annual leave days or begging staff not to take their entitled days off.
But these measures can only paper over the cracks for so long.
The Tories, their profiteering buddies, and their management consultant mates stripped out any “spare capacity” from the health service in the name of efficiency.
Now ordinary people are paying the price.