NHS hospitals have been told to start preparing for the UK to leave the EU single market and customs union without a deal at the end of 2020.
Chief executives of hospitals across England have been put on alert and asked to get the health service ready for potential disruption following the Brexit transition period.
Hospitals have been asked to identify a “senior responsible officer” for no-deal preparations in the letter sent out by Professor Keith Willett — the NHS official in charge of planning for the UK’s exit.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove this week admitted the UK faces significant disruption at the border from 1 January, and health experts have warned of the risk in shortages of vital medicines.
Prof Willett wrote to hospitals on 16 September and said he wanted to make sure they had “operational readiness and response structure” in place to cope with the transition.
“We are requesting that you now identify your named UK end of transition SRO [senior responsible officer] in each NHS organisation and that they work with the existing incident team,” he stated in the letter shared with The Independent.
Prof Willett also said he expected his team to set out an “appropriate operational response” to help NHS England manage the UK’s exit by October.
He recently resumed his Brexit planning job, despite already having a role as the director in charge of emergency planning for the coronavirus pandemic across the NHS.
Last year he led a 200-strong team in preparing the health service for Brexit, before Boris Johnson forged a withdrawal agreement with the EU.
Last month the government wrote to medicine suppliers urging them to stockpile drugs for a possible no-deal scenario — after firms warned that this may not be possible because of the pandemic.
In June, a pharmaceutical industry memo said original stockpiles meant for no deal had been “used up entirely” and that it might not be possible to replenish them before December.
Steve Oldfield, chief commercial officer at the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We encourage companies to make stockpiling a key part of contingency plans, and ask industry, where possible, to stockpile to a target level of six weeks’ total stock on UK soil.”
Mark Dayan, head of public of affairs at the Nuffield Institute health think tank, said the end of the transition period could mean ongoing disruption to NHS supply chains.
Being outside of the EU will mean “a battery of new regulatory and customs barriers to trade — especially if no trade agreement is reached,” he said.