Expected traffic jams in south-east England post-Brexit could prevent patients accessing GP practices, Covid-19 vaccinations and testing, local commissioners have said.
In a recent board paper, Kent CCG said regardless of a trade deal with the EU before 1 January 2021, additional checks and delays at border ports will be expected for some time and may disrupt the local road network, which in turn could limit access to healthcare services.
One of the M20 junctions is ‘operationally significant’ to several aspects of the local health system, it added, with it providing a route to primary care and out-of-hours services, an acute hospital, and for the South East Coast Ambulance Service to operate.
The paper, published in October, said: ‘There is a risk that the expected traffic disruption will impact on all health services either by preventing staff from accessing their place of work or by preventing patients accessing services. This is the same issue faced for Covid testing and vaccination related services.’
It added that there may also be local disruption to the supply chain for critical health and care consumables from the new year.
The paper also said ‘further assurance’ will be required to ensure primary care services remain resilient in the face of a potential sustained peak in Covid alongside the end of the EU transition period.
Wilf Williams, Kent and Medway CCG’s accountable officer, told Healthcare Leader: ‘We have been working with partners in Kent and Medway and nationally to plan and prepare for the EU exit for some time. Our geographical position means we are the gateway to Europe and therefore traffic disruption is expected.
‘The NHS, along with other partners in the Kent Resilience Forum, have identified risks and we have plans in place to deal with them should they arise so people in Kent and Medway will continue to be able to access services.’
East Sussex CCG has similarly identified several areas where new trade rules from January could lead to disruption for local healthcare services.
In a board paper this month (December), East Sussex CCG said: ‘Working [with regional partners], we have identified a number of risks likely to impact on Sussex, including impacts on our supply chain for medicines and clinical consumables, significant transport disruption and potential disruption to our workforce.’
NHS England sent a letter to healthcare providers and commissioners earlier this month stating steps have been taken to help ensure medicines continue to be available, and that any supply disruptions are mitigated, including organising stockpiles to last six weeks.
The East Sussex CCG board paper said travel disruption in the early days of January – caused by more traffic at ports in Kent and Hampshire – could delay ‘some deliveries’.
It added that potential delays to ambulances in Kent could subsequently impact the resilience of ambulance services in Sussex, but that ‘these risks have all been planned for’ already.
A spokesperson for East Sussex CCG told Healthcare Leader: ‘The NHS is planning for a range of possibilities at a national and local level ahead of the deadline for the ending of the transition period for the UK leaving the EU on 31 December 2020.
‘The CCGs in Sussex are part of the Sussex Local Resilience Forum (LRF), a multi-agency partnership, which brings together the local organisations needed to plan and prepare for the ending of the transition period.’
They added: ‘As part of this local preparation, we have worked together with other bodies to identify any potential risks likely to impact [services], as is being done around the country at this time.’