According to the BMJ, NHS trusts are struggling to produce concrete plans amid the continuing Brexit uncertainty.
NHS trusts across the UK are struggling to produce contingency plans for Brexit because of the continuing uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the European Union. The investigation finds a lack of comprehensive and concrete guidance from the government, making the Brexit uncertainty difficult for trusts to move beyond basic planning.
The BMJ sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all 231 NHS trusts in England and 26 health boards across Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and received a 71% response rate.
The analysis found that only 9% of English trusts have established a committee or body to oversee preparations for Brexit.
The BMJ also asked trusts and health boards to disclose any current risk assessment related to Brexit., however only a quarter of those that responded were able to disclose this information, with a number saying they were still assessing the risk. Those that have been done are largely thin on detail and similar risks have often been assessed differently from trust to trust.
Trouble for NHS trusts
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, the body representing NHS trusts in England, told the BMJ: “All of the uncertainty has just exacerbated an already difficult situation. Trusts have planned as far as they can, but so much of this is reliant on central government action.”
The Department of Health and Social Care, which is overseeing central coordination of risk areas such as medicines, food, medical devices, and clinical consumables, has said trusts are responsible for their own contingency activity.
On Monday 17 December, the health secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC’s Newsnight that the Department had instituted “full no-deal planning” for the NHS.
Does anyone know what they truly need to do?
Hancock has sought to reassure MPs that NHS supplies, workforce, and medicines regulation will be secure in the event of a no deal “if everybody does everything they need to do.” However, with the terms of Brexit still uncertain, much of the detail of what NHS trusts actually ‘need to do’ is not clear.
Nevertheless, the investigation did find that some trusts and health boards are taking action to support their EU staff, including paying for them to achieve settled status, while others have issued instructions not to stockpile medicines or write longer prescriptions for patients in the weeks leading up to Brexit, as requested by the Government.