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Health sector insufficiently prepared for a no-deal Brexit, says head of NHS Improvement

Health sector insufficiently prepared for a no-deal Brexit, says head of NHS Improvement
By Beth Gault
21 August 2018

A lack of collaboration between Government ministers and the health service could see hospitals run out of drugs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, a leaked letter from NHS Providers has warned.

In a letter leaked to The Times, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said there has been poor coordination between ministers and NHS bosses in this area, a situation that could affect the supply of drugs, as well as the workforce.

The letter was sent to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, by Mr Hopson on Friday.

Mr Hopson said in the letter: ‘The entire supply chain of pharmaceuticals could be negatively affected’ by a hard Brexit or no deal.

He also said the EU citizens that make up the NHS workforce could be ‘jeopardised’, and ‘public health and disease control coordination could suffer.’

The possibility of a no-deal or hard Brexit ‘with minimal regulatory alignment appears to be growing’, said Mr Hopson.

‘As long as that risk remains, it is important that detailed operation planning is undertaken across the NHS.’

‘Yet trusts tell us that their work in this area is being hampered by the lack of visible and appropriate communication,’ he wrote.

‘Our members have begun planning… but they have hit a problem, in that some activities are clearly best done at national level and, in the view of trusts, are best coordinated by NHS England and NHS Improvement.’

However, he warned that there had been ‘no formal communication to trusts’ on the issue of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Hopson added that it would be more ‘efficient and effective’ for ministers and NHS chiefs to work out a national contingency plan, rather than ‘expecting trusts to develop contingency plans individually, in a vacuum, and have to reinvent the wheel 229 times’.

He added that poor coordination could mean ‘both stockpiles and shortages of medicines and medical devices’.

Speaking to The Guardian, an NHS Providers spokesperson confirmed that the report was genuine: ‘We have not leaked this letter. These conversations about Brexit are obviously something that happened between ourselves and the other organisations.’

‘This correspondence was private but it has been leaked and we are not saying anything further about it.’

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘Ensuring the NHS is prepared for every potential outcome of Brexit is a priority. Government leads on contingency planning for different scenarios and we are working with them on this and ensuring NHS voices are heard.

‘We will be working with our colleagues and partners across the NHS to ensure plans are well progressed, and will provide the NHS with the support it needs.’

Mark Duggan, policy and public affairs analyst at think-tank the Nuffield Trust, told Healthcare Leader that the letter was ‘pointing to some real concerns’ about supplies in the event of a no-deal.

‘I think we’re getting to the point where it would be good to have some more scenario planning,’ Mr Duggan said. ‘The ideal outcome would be that we do reach a transition agreement with the EU.’

‘Failing that, there does need to be some real planning done. Things like stock piling of medicines and chartering special flights to bring in short lived medical products should probably be on the table, much as they seem quite drastic.

‘And there will have to be thought given to this in terms of the cost implications for individual trusts, for the pharmaceutical industry who are more than likely going to pass their costs on one way or another, and for the NHS as a whole.’

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