THE coronavirus debate is beginning, tentatively, to focus on the lessons to be learned from this pandemic and how we are to avoid making such far-reaching mistakes – such as the number of care home fatalities – should another occur in the future.

There are many features of our experience over the last three months that must make us stop and take stock. The “rediscovery” of the indispensable role governments must play in shaping society in such circumstances is certainly one of them.

Only the state was able to sustain the economy during this lockdown period. And this rather exposed the supposed supremacy of “free market” ideology which has held our politicians hostage for the last 40 years.

It took the worst pandemic in a century and the worst collapse in economic activity ever to remind us that the private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange is incapable of protecting us in such emergencies. I’m sure everyone thanks heaven we had the National Health Service. Goodness knows where we would have been without it!

On second thoughts, we saw clearly where we would have been through the deficiencies in the private system of healthcare with the appalling number of deaths in Scotland’s care homes.

The lethal consequences of this “free market” mentality were also evident in the abandonment of crucial early test, trace and isolate advice given to the Government. The resources to do so were not made available as requested and an appalling death rate – the fourth-worst in the world – followed.

The UK Government was warned in 2016 by Operation Cygnus to stockpile personal protective equipment (PPE) in preparation for the possibility of such a pandemic, only to have that advice ignored by Ministers, who thought it could be bought “off the shelf” if needed. The virus’s causes are a complex mix of increased human contact with forest-dwelling creatures as we trash the rainforests on the one hand and employ insanitary mass factory farming conditions on the other.

What is not in doubt is that the conditions that produce such viruses – such as Sars and Mers before Covid-19 – remain in place and make it likely we can expect more in the future.

Given that it will be ruinous to contemplate repeated lockdowns with each new – and possibly even more virulent – virus, only coherent and robust public health measures can adequately protect the public.

We must rebuild a fully resourced and robust public health service cut to ribbons by years of austerity, to ensure it is capable of tracing, isolating and suppressing the spread of Covid-type viruses before it cuts down another swathe of the population.

In the meantime, surely the most immediate need is to avoid a repeat of the horrors witnessed in our care homes. For decades, the care of the elderly service has been piecemeal at best, an incoherent mix of private and public provision overseen by myopic politicians who adopted an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” attitude.

LOOMING large in both Scotland and the UK amid the current crisis, it seems to me, is the urgent need for a publicly owned and run National Care Service. That reform, which would fly in the face of the neo-liberal orthodoxy, is more important than ever because the pandemic exposed the private care model as unfit for use.

It is not only prohibitively expensive, despite huge subsidies from the public purse, but often of poor quality and saturated by poor working conditions and wage rates – and above all one where profitability is the main attraction for private capital.

The case for a National Care Service run alongside the NHS is supported by eminent public health clinicians such as Professor Allyson Pollock of Newcastle University, who has frequently criticised the treatment of the elderly under the private care ethos. And the Scottish Socialist Party has long supported her demand for public ownership of the industry.

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The Scottish Socialist Party believes the NHS and our care sector should stand side by side and be held in the same high regard. That has sadly not been the case.

The campaign for a fully-funded, well-paid, and tightly regulated National Care Service is likely to feature prominently in the public inquiries that will inevitably take place into the disproportionate number of care home deaths. The socialist movement will be at the heart of the demand.

As the demand grows for a new “normal” after Covid-19, the case for that National Care Service can become an important marker for the type of society we seek to build, one which puts people and planet before private profit.