No-deal Brexit: Secret reports reveal hospitals fear medicine shortages and inability to treat patients

Managers warn of inability to ‘deliver services adequately’ and wards ‘under extreme pressure’ – in documents they were told not to release

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 16 May 2019 15:34
What does a no-deal Brexit mean?

Hospitals have raised the alarm about a critical shortage of medicines and an inability to treat patients after a no-deal Brexit, in secret reports the government sought to suppress.

Managers said they feared running out of imported isotopes to detect cancers, staffing shortages and having to abandon clinical trials – as well as a surge in racism and xenophobia.

Crashing out of the EU without an agreement has been given a “catastrophic” risk rating by the Dudley Group of hospitals, in the West Midlands, which warned of an inability to “deliver services adequately”.

The Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys trust, in the northeast, warned of disruption to medicines supply, saying, “this would potentially result in in-patient units being under extreme pressure”.

The managing director of the Shropshire Care Group remembered when “every hospital pharmacy carried out a civil contingencies medicines stockpile”, adding: “Let’s hope we’re not going back to that.”

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole trust revealed fears about getting hold of “radiopharmaceuticals used for diagnostic imaging”, warning: “Access to suitable radioisotopes is fragile and could be adversely affected.”

And the Royal Bolton highlighted the qualifications of Spanish nurses no longer being recognised in that country after Brexit, saying some “are looking to return to Spain this year”.

The assessments were only revealed because of freedom of information requests – after ministers urged hospitals to keep them under wraps to avoid spreading panic.

Many trusts declined to respond to the request, by the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group, citing that government instruction, the group said.

“We shouldn’t be in a situation where hospitals across the country are scared about staffing levels and potentially having to cut back services in order to stay afloat,” said Dr Paul Williams, a Labour MP and supporter.

“These documents show that Brexit presents a real threat to patient care across the country.”

Naomi Smith, the interim chief executive of Best for Britain, added: “It’s no wonder the government didn’t want local hospitals releasing these Brexit planning documents.”

Despite the Commons voting against a no deal – and Theresa May obtaining an extension to the Article 50 process until 31 October, as a result – No 10 insists it remains on the table.

Spending on no-deal planning continues and several Tory leadership favourites – including Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt – have embraced a willingness to crash out.

Last autumn, it was revealed that hospitals feared running out of imported food for patient meals if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement.

Caterers were told to hunt for “substitute foodstuffs to maintain nutritional balance” of meals, amid fears that supplies would be cut off, a government letter reveals.

Schools, the armed forces and “any kind of mass catering” would also be affected, a committee of MPs was told.

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