NHS preparing for ‘worst case scenario’ ahead of possible no-deal Brexit

This article was taken from: https://news.sky.com/story/nhs-preparing-for-worst-case-scenario-ahead-of-possible-no-deal-brexit-11825654

By Ashish Joshi News correspondent

An extra two months of product lines are being stored in a warehouse in Wales in case the UK cannot secure a deal with Brussels.

NHS trusts across the country are continuing to plan for a no-deal Brexit, with many expressing concerns at the timing of when Britain could finally leave the European Union.

It has been one of the busiest summers on record for the NHS and hospitals should now be preparing for another testing winter season.

Instead NHS Trust managers are trying to make contingency plans in case the prime minister is unable to secure a deal with Brussels.

They have told Sky News they are planning for a worst case scenario without knowing exactly what that could mean after 31 October.

For NHS Wales it means stockpiling medical supplies in a warehouse.

More than one thousand product lines are being stored at the facility.

The stock includes everything that would be required for a hospital to keep functioning except medicines.

Drug supplies are being co-ordinated by central government and pharmaceutical companies.

NHS Wales Programme Director Mark Roscrow said: “We’ve got eight weeks here – that’s on top of the month we normally hold at our existing facilities – and on top of that, a lot of work has been done with suppliers who are stockpiling across the UK so there’s that additional resilience in the supply chain.

“None of us know exactly what we’re going to be coming in to but what we’ve done by working with the Welsh government, UK colleagues and agencies across the UK is plan and put as much detail into that as we possibly can.”

The challenge for all NHS managers is the uncertainty.

Nobody knows what is going to happen.

Stockpiling extra supplies is one way of mitigating the risk but issues with staffing levels and the NHS workforce are more difficult to manage.

Nick Hulme, the chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust, told Sky News he was still trying to understand the impact of Brexit on his staff.

“We are providing as much reassurance as we can. We weren’t the only organisation three years ago where our EU staff felt they were not wanted in the country or were upset by the result of the referendum.

“There are clearly some unanswered questions. We are looking at the charging arrangements, trying to make sure that if someone is working here their loved one is eligible for NHS care.

“For example if you’ve got a nurse or doctor whose wife is about to give birth here, are they still eligible for NHS care after 31 October? So those sort of conversations are starting to happen with the staff.”

Mr Hulme’s concerns are shared by other NHS Trust managers who spoke to Sky News anonymously.

One boss told us: “One of the biggest risks we face is getting staff and patients to the hospital.

“We are worried that the police and highway authorities will not be able to prioritise staff and patients through increased traffic congestion in some areas.

“This is making it harder to plan effectively.”

Another shared their concerns about staff, and said: “During the run up to the last Brexit day a number of senior staff dedicated all of their time, (and considerable unpaid overtime), to making sure we were properly prepared.

“I see no reason why this won’t be the same again.”

And another said: “This is now the third ‘Brexit’ date that we have had to plan for.

“Not only does this add to a sense of continuing uncertainty, but it is also creating extra work for trusts and putting other things on hold at a time when we are already working flat out.”

NHS Providers, the body that represents NHS Trust managers, said while NHS Trusts were doing everything they could, much of the planning is being handled by central government.

Its deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery warned: “No matter how much planning the NHS puts into place, it is heavily reliant on effective, resilient and co-ordinated planning across several government departments and across a range of other sectors.

“Trusts are concerned about ensuring continuity across every aspect of their services.

“For example, protecting the supply of medicines – particularly those that cannot be stockpiled or substituted easily – and medical devices is critical to ensure that care for patients and service users isn’t disrupted.

“Likewise, trusts are concerned about the potential impact on non-clinical supplies like food.

“Transport of these supplies depends on a network of approvals, licences and controls, across the UK and EU.

“It is unclear to what extent mutual recognition arrangements will be in place on day one.

“Besides this, trusts in key transport areas are particularly worried about the knock-on effects of any logjams on the roads and how to ensure that staff and patients are able to get to receive care.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We are doing everything we can to help ensure people continue to receive the highest standards of care after Brexit.

“There are already robust plans in place to deal with winter, and we’re backing the NHS with the largest cash boost in history to improve frontline care.

“EU workers play a vital role across the health and social care system and we want them to continue to do so. Over 6,300 more have joined the NHS since the referendum, and we continue to encourage those living and working in the UK to apply for settled status.”