A chaotic no-deal Brexit could lead to operations being ‘curtailed’ and waiting lists increasing, the boss of one of the country’s leading hospital groups has warned.
Dr David Rosser, chief executive of University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) NHS Foundation Trust, said a no-deal exit could see many trusts run out of medical supplies.
He warned it ‘seemed inevitable’ that his trust would need to curtail some surgeries and treatments if Brexit caused supply problems.
Dr Rosser said if his trust had to postpone most or all of its ‘non-urgent surgical and interventional activity’, waiting lists could increase by 15% a month.
But he said it was not clear whether any problems would affect a small number of complex procedures or result in a ‘complete curtailment of all elective activity’.
Dr Rosser added: ‘It seems inevitable that the trust will need to curtail some surgical/interventional activity if there are supply problems caused by a no-deal Brexit.
‘But it is unclear whether this would manifest as a small number of the most complex procedures through to complete curtailment of all elective activity.’
His concerns were raised in a memo to the UHB board of directors last week after the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) asked health and care providers to undertake ‘local EU exit readiness planning’ for a no-deal Brexit.
Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29 and MPs voted for prime minister Theresa May to return to Brussels to renegotiate parts of the Withdrawal Agreement last night.
In the memo, Dr Rosser said the greatest concern was the availability of medicines, devices and clinical supplies, despite central stockpiling.
He added: ‘In the event of a chaotic, no-deal exit, many NHS trusts could quickly run out of vital medical supplies.
‘Even where there has been central stockpiling, the logistics and urgency of local distribution will be a completely unprecedented challenge.’
He added that the DHSC had identified potential supply shortcomings, but the findings had not been shared with trusts.
Staffing is another concern raised in the document, with Dr Rosser writing that UHB employs around 1,200 EU staff, of which 262 are doctors and 375 are nurses or midwives.
He wrote: ‘Whilst we have not seen large-scale departures so far, it is quite likely that an even more hostile public atmosphere towards Europe in the event of no deal, combined with a further fall in sterling against the euro and other currencies, would affect staff morale and potentially decisions to stay and work in the UK.’
NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said a disorderly Brexit could pose a risk to the supply of medicines and equipment as well as staff.
She added: ‘We need clear and robust assurances that the continued, timely supply of medicines and equipment is protected.
‘Individually each of these concerns would be serious but collectively they could have a substantial impact on the ability of trusts to continue to provide the same level of services and treatment for patients.’
A DHSC spokesman said: ‘We are working closely with the NHS, industry and the supply chain to make detailed plans to ensure continued access to healthcare, medical devices and clinical supplies in the event of no deal.
‘We have produced guidance and shared the government’s planning assumptions to help inform the NHS’s own preparations.’