The health service is now preparing itself for a ‘no-deal’ scenario on Brexit, according to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.
Mr Stevens said that the Department of Health and Social Care was drawing up plans to be implemented in the event of no final deal being reached on the UK’s exit from the EU next March.
His admission is a marked departure from eight months ago, when he told members of the Parliamentary health select committee that no contingency planning for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, had been undertaken by the NHS.
Speaking on the BBC on 1 July, Mr Stevens refused to be drawn on the precise impact no deal might have on the NHS, but insisted that steps to protect the continued supply of medicine, were being made.
He said: ‘There is now significant planning going on around all the scenarios… which the health department, with other parts of the Government, are undertaking, around securing medicine supply and equipment under different scenarios.
‘That will obviously crystallise, when it’s clear later this autumn, what the UK’s position will be [but] there’s extensive work under way now between the DHSC and other parts of the Government, the life-sciences industry and pharmaceutical companies.’
Mr Stevens said that ensuring the continued supply of vital medical products such as blood plasma from the EU, were ‘top of the list’ of planning priorities for March 2019.
He said that all hospitals had now written to their EU staff members reminding them that the Home Office was developing a clear application process that would allow them to remain in the UK.
He admitted, however, that Brexit, and the potential for a no-deal situation, posed immense challenges to the NHS.
He said: ‘Nobody is pretending that this is a desirable situation [no Brexit deal], but if that’s where we get to, it will not have been unforeseen.’
The DHSC’s admission that it is planning for a no-deal scenario is the latest development in an environment which is seeing pressure and urgency on Brexit and the health service being ramped up.
At last week’s BMA annual representative meeting in Brighton, doctors voted overwhelmingly in favour of a call for the association to oppose Brexit in its entirety and to give the public a vote on any final exit deal.
In its formal opposition to Brexit, the BMA further called on the Government to keep the UK in the European Single Market, Euratom agreement on medical isotopes and European Clinical Trials Directive.
The association also supports the continuation of free movement for medical researchers and healthcare staff.
Speaking at the ARM, Will Sapwell warned that the Government appeared ‘woefully underprepared’ regarding Brexit and the NHS.
Meanwhile BMA medical ethics committee chair John Chisholm likened the UK’s impending exit from the EU as a ‘disastrous act of national self-harm’, and said and doctors had a duty to speak out ‘about the damage Brexit will do to our patients and to healthcare professionals’.