Responding to COVID-19

Steps we’ve taken at Medact

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into stark relief the serious health inequalities that exist both in the UK and across the world.

In recent months we have adjusted our approach to campaigning by moving our work online and giving more focus to supporting campaigns that seek to address the health inequalities intersecting with COVID-19.

Medact groups around the country are also still meeting and working on campaigns online. You can check out our groups page and the calendar for up to date information on what’s happening and how you can get involved.

We recognise that this time requires an adaptive and emergent approach to a quickly-changing situation and that the pandemic is by no means over. However, what follows is our best attempt to capture and organise our responses to the COVID-19 crisis thus far.

Economic Justice

We’ve had over 800 signatures on our petition for a socially just response to coronavirus. Help us take it up to a thousand, by signing and sharing with your networks.

Our public health is only as strong as our economic & social fabric. Join our action

Following our petition launch, our Economic Justice campaigner wrote a blog highlighting gaps in the government’s policy response to the crisis which have undermined the ability of people to self-isolate safely and deepened existing socio-economic inequalities.

We have also submitted to the Housing Communities & Local Government Committee Inquiry into the impact of coronavirus on homelessness and the private rental sector to show the link between housing insecurity and COVID-19 transmission.

We supported the release of a new IPPR report, Care fit for our Carers, which highlights the low pay and insecurity faced by many health and care workers.

We also signed a letter alongside organisations such as MSF, Global Justice now and Just Treatment to ensure that the vaccine made for COVID19 is affordable, accessible to all, especially those living in low and middle income countries.

We’ve recently been working hard to organise public health institutions to push for an extension of the eviction ban. Working with 16 public health organisations and 3 tenants unions, we wrote to the government calling on them to protect those experiencing housing insecurity during the coronavirus crisis. Our collective letter was published in the Guardian and The Financial Times and helped contribute towards a government u-turn – with the eviction ban being extended until 20th September.

Economic Justice & Health Group

We launched the Economic Justice & Health Group with an online workshop where members shared accounts of what they were witnessing during this crisis, discussed what principles and values should underpin our Just Response to Coronavirus campaign and what actions need to be taken.

Going forward, our new Economic Justice & Health Group will provide a place for members to take an active role in shaping and progressing our urgent demands.

Access to Health Care

It’s been a busy time for our access to healthcare work as we’ve continued to pressure the Government for a better response to the coronavirus crisis. Simply adding COVID-19 to the list of exempt conditions in charging regulations does not go far enough and many people are still unable to access the NHS due to fears about charging and data-sharing.

Campaigning for the suspension of charging regulations

We launched a joint statement with JCWI and Liberty which was signed by 70 civil society organisations. Our call gathered momentum and we joined the British Medical Association and 6 Royal Colleges in signing this letter, coordinated by Doctors of the World, echoing our demands. We also worked alongside 3 MPs to coordinate a statement, eventually signed by 60 cross-party MPs, in support of the BMA’s position and they tabled an Early Day Motion calling for the NHS charging regulations to be scrapped.

In the face of overwhelming public pressure, the Government took an important first step in scrapping part of the Hostile Environment in the NHS in May: announcing that NHS and social care workers would no longer be required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge.

While this is an important step, we are continuing to push the Government to scrap the surcharge for everyone – you shouldn’t have to work in the NHS, or be forced to put your health on the line during the crisis, to be able to access healthcare without facing punitive charges!

We helped Docs Not Cops put together this great video explaining why the IHS has to be scrapped for everyone.

Highlighting the true impact of the coronavirus crisis on migrant communities

We worked with Kanlungan, a Filipino community organisation, to expose the story of Elvis, an undocumented migrant who died at home after experiencing coronavirus symptoms. He had been too scared to seek help from the NHS. We’ve been conducting research with frontline organisations supporting migrants to find out what impact the coronavirus crisis is having on people’s access to care. We used the preliminary results as part of our submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

In June we released a new “rapid response” report with Migrants Organise and the New Economics Foundation, surveying over 50 other organisations to understand the impact of the coronavirus crisis on migrant communities.

We found clear evidence that the Hostile Environment stops migrants seeking healthcare; that the COVID-19 exemption from charging is not working; and that migrants face many additional barriers to care.

In response to the report findings, we launched a new petition calling for an end to NHS charging, which has now been signed almost 30,000 times! If you haven’t already signed it, please do.

We’ve also been supporting the Migrant Solidarity Group to promote the release of their research looking at the impact of NHS charging on children and their families.

Mutual Aid resources

We’ve produced a range of useful resources aimed at mutual aid groups to ensure that people are aware of the issues facing undocumented migrants and can provide support in a safe and helpful way. We also collected all this info into a blog that we’ve published along with Migrants Organise. You can read it here.

Climate & Health

Inspired by the attendances at our “Climate, Health and COVID-19” webinars, we have set up a Climate and Health group to build the public health call for climate justice. In the coming months, the Climate and Health Group will be looking at growing the health movement in support of a Green New Deal with more creative actions.

On International Nurses Day, Medact  joined Nurses United, Green New Deal UK and a number of other organisations, unions and individuals to launch the Build Back Better campaign calling for a just recovery from COVID-19 that prioritises people and planet.

Fossil Free Health

Many of our Fossil Free Health groups are also taking time out to do some virtual campaign planning workshops and skills sessions with our new Climate and Health Organiser, Rob. Please email [email protected] if you’d like him to facilitate a virtual campaign planning or skill share workshop with your group.

Green New Deal Action Call

In July we held an Action Call to discuss the what, why and how of building the health movement for transformative climate justice. We were fortunate to hear from guest speakers Dr Abdul El-Sayed (former Health Director of Detroit and professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health), Gupi Bola (former Medact Director, Trustee of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, researcher and public health strategist) and Dr Stephanie Davies Le Brun (Clinical psychologist working in older adult mental health services and a member of the North West branch of Psychologists for Social Change).

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, the need for a transformative Green New Deal is greater than ever. We are looking to run Health for a Green New Deal campaign sessions with local health groups and if you would be interested in hosting a session with your group or would like to start a group to work on this campaign, please fill in the form and we’ll be in touch!

Peace & Security

We have published a series of blogs discussing peace and security in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

Our first blog  ‘Responding to coronavirus – intersections with war, militarised violence and the arms industry’ examined the impact of the pandemic in regions where past and ongoing armed conflict and militarised violence have led to the destruction or deterioration of public health infrastructures. These impacts have also been exacerbated by ongoing trade sanctions on a number of regions around the world – something that we have examined in the next blog in the series ‘From exclusion to international solidarity – the public health case for lifting trade sanctions in the face of COVID-19’.

As our first piece explains, Gaza is particularly under-prepared for an outbreak of COVID-19 due to the impacts of the blockade and regular attacks. We joined this call with Physicians for Human Rights Israel and 17 international organisations for Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza and to put in place immediate steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

We also joined hundreds of international health, humanitarian and civil society organisations in calling for an immediate global ceasefire so that people around the world can work together to overcome coronavirus, protect health workers and facilities and move toward peace.

Another blog in the series looks at the Coronavirus Act, examining the impacts of extra powers granted to the police. This piece was particularly timely given research released in May, showing BAME people were 52% more likely than white people to be fined by the police under coronavirus rules.

The final blog in the series – ‘Out of sight – facing coronavirus incarcerated’ – examined the impact of the pandemic in sites of detention, with a particular focus on the hidden public health crisis in our prison and detention systems. If you are a health worker interested in re-thinking our approach to security and wellbeing, you can sign up for updates on our work on securitisation of health.

Following the release of the latest SIPRI report that showed the greatest increase in global military expenditure in 2019 for a decade, we joined 18 organisations in calling for the government to reorient spending to socially-useful production that tackles serious threats to ‘human security’.

We held a webinar on the arms industry in the era of COVID-19, where we discussed what a ‘just transition’ away from industries that cause destruction to those that support peace and public health could and should look like. We heard from a range of experts in the field of arms conversion and a just transition for workers and you catch up with the event if you missed it.

How you can get involved

Our Movement Builder Becky has been working with group coordinators to support alternative ways of campaigning during the lockdown.

Medact groups are now holding online gatherings and you can find out about how to join these by checking our Calendar.

If you are leading a campaign on which a collective health voice may be helpful, please get in touch.

Alongside NEON, we have equipped a number of our members with Press Spokesperson training. We can also offer support to health workers who want to raise concerns and tell their stories in the media, or pitching them to journalists. Please get in touch with us – [email protected]

If you would like to write a blog to host on our website that would be of interest to Medact’s movement, please see our Blogging Guidelines.

Do you have a campaign idea?

We recognise that health workers are the eyes and ears, at the frontline; and are working at capacity. If you’re a health worker who has an idea for a campaign you would like Medact to support or take leadership on, please get in touch. We can provide the platform, and support you to build the movement on your campaign.