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‘Biggest ever’ online health campaign conference to ‘pile political heat on government’ over cronyism

HEALTH campaigners will attend a major online rally this evening against NHS privatisation and the Tory government’s Covid-19 crony contracts.

Health Campaigns Together said today that over 1,000 people had already registered for the event, which it hopes will be the “biggest ever” online conference of its kind.

It will bring together anti-privatisation and public ownership campaigners, union officials from Unite, Unison and GMB, and Labour MPs including Bell Ribeiro-Addy and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth.

Health Campaigns Together editor Dr John Lister wants the conference to “grab the public imagination and pile political heat on the government.”

Activists will discuss fears that the Tories are using the pandemic to push through far-reaching changes to the NHS by “frittering away” billions of pounds on ineffective private contracts – such as the £12 billion spent on test-and-trace – rather than on publicly run services.

The Serco-run test-and-trace scheme – headed by Tory life peer Dido Harding – has been criticised as far less effective than local public health teams in identifyng people infected with Covid-19 and tracing their social contacts.

With almost £2 billion spent on “crony contracts” with Tory donors and friends during the pandemic according to Labour analysis, activists welcomed the opportunity to demand change.

Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr Tony O’Sullivan said: “The National Audit Office (NAO) criticises the government for fast-tracking private contracts to close political contacts.

“[Health Secretary] Matt Hancock says he’s done nothing wrong and denies cronyism.

“The NHS is in deep trouble if this is not challenged — privatisation in public health is virtually a definition of ‘conflict of interests’.”

Labour has accused the government of thinking it is “above the law” in awarding lucrative contracts for services and personal protective equipment (PPE)  during the pandemic

Mr Hancock has refused to apologise after a High Court ruling found him guilty of unlawful conduct by failing to publish Covid-19 contracts within the legal timeframe.

In an urgent Commons question yesterday, shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: “There has been an unedifying gold rush by chums and chancers — £2bn worth of contracts handed to those with close links to the Conservative Party.

“From the Health Secretary’s local pub landlord to the donors, manifesto writers and members of the old-boys club, they’ve all had a return on their investment — at our expense.”

She urged health minister Edward Argar to apologise to front-line workers who had been required to make their own PPE due to shortages.

Mr Argar said that he makes “no apologies” for the government doing “everything in its power” to ensure NHS and front-line workers did not run out of PPE.

He also repeated Mr Hancock’s disputed claim that the NAO said “there was no national shortage of PPE throughout this pandemic.”

In November, the NAO said that the government was “initially reliant on PPE stockpiles that proved inadequate for the Covid-19 pandemic,” as they were intended for an influenza pandemic.

It also noted that “many front-line workers reported shortages of PPE.”

To register for the conference, starting at 6.30pm this evening, visit: https://bit.ly/3kiRN8V

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