Both a disastrous no deal Brexit and Theresa May’s hard Brexit pose a serious risk to the functioning of the health service, according to a leaked letter from NHS Providers.
The letter from Chris Hopson, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, the membership organisation and trade association for the frontlines of the health service, is written to Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England, and Ian Dalton, the Chief Executive of NHS Improvement - with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and Downing Street copied in.
Significantly, he warns that the fall-out for the NHS will occur either under the “hard-Brexit” proposals of the current government, which has been far from clear on issues such as supply and certification of medicines or isotopes used in cancer treatments – as well as the “no deal Brexit” now being talked up by Cabinet ministers like Liam Fox and MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg.
“As we approach March 2019, the risk that the UK will be facing a no deal situation in the Brexit negotiations or a “hard Brexit” with minimal regulatory alignment appears to be growing. For as long as that risk remains, it is important that detailed operational planning is undertaken across the NHS.
“From day one after the UK leaves the EU, the entire supply chain of pharmaceuticals could be adversely affected in the event of a no deal or hard Brexit. Public health and disease control coordination could also suffer, and our efforts to reassure, retain and attract the European workforce on which the NHS relies could also be jeopardised.
“Despite these risks, we have received mixed messages on where national responsibilities – between the Department, NHS England and NHS Improvement – for Brexit planning lie. We are cognisant of the political and commercial sensitivities here, but the risk to public services is real and we need appropriate national contingency planning... Trusts are understandably concerned that, if things continue as they are, they will be left with the fallout.
Mr Hopson goes on to complain of “radio silence” on these crucial issues , saying “there are a number of areas where active national leadership is essential…This seems more appropriate than expecting trusts to develop contingency plans individually, in a vacuum, and have to reinvent the wheel 229 times.”
Commenting, Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee and leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said:
“The Health and Social Care Committee has been calling on government for some time to publish its contingency planning for Brexit. As the prospect of a no-deal and no-transition hard Brexit becomes more likely, it is more urgent than ever that all NHS organisations, patients and carers can see the full consequences and costs of hard Brexit and begin to make preparations.
“This is about far more than WTO tariffs and will have far reaching consequences for the NHS, social care, public health and our life sciences as well as those who depend on services.
“For the Government to proceed without setting out the risks and benefits of the terms of Brexit and seeking informed consent would be like a surgeon relying on consent to surgery obtained two years previously without their patient knowing whether this would involve a few toes or their whole leg. The Government must seek informed consent through a People’s Vote, without it there is no mandate for such radical and dangerous surgery.”
Ben Bradshaw MP, member of the Health and Social Care Committee and leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said:
“Brexit is already causing serious damage to our NHS, and it’s set to get much worse. Now the professionals running our hospitals are warning that Brexit and the Government's incompetent and chaotic handling of it, could mean vital EU staff leaving, medical supplies needing to be stockpiled and disease prevention suffering.
“No-one voted for this shambles and they certainly didn’t vote to damage our NHS. Revelations like this only reinforce the need for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.”
Notes to editors: