In the second of a three-part Brexit series, TOM EARNSHAW and PAUL FAULKNER report on the risks that a No Deal Brexit could bring to the NHS and emergency services across the county...
The NHS and health services in Lancashire have revealed they are working hard to identify and plan for a number of risks that could be brought on by a No Deal Brexit.
North West Ambulance Service has highlighted problems with medicine and clinical trials while the National Audit Office has said vital medicine shortages are likely if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
And NHS organisations in Central Lancashire have decided to hold conference calls every 24 hours in the days leading up to a possible No Deal Brexit at the end of October.
In Lancashire, the police force has said there is little to suggest any such issue could lead to a rise in crime or disorder.
But planning is under way as part of its role in leading the Lancashire Resilience Forum; a multi-agency partnership made up of representatives from local public services, including the emergency services, local authorities, the NHS, the Environment Agency and others.
Ambulance service’s area risk
Lancashire’s ambulance service has identified eight possible risks if the UK is faced with a ‘No Deal’ Brexit.
North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) has identified possible worries concerning the likes of medicine, clinical and non-clinical goods supplies, workforce, research, and clinical trials and business continuity.
READ MORE: How ready is Lancashire for Brexit?
As a result it has been working with fellow emergency services to manage risks and lessen the impact of any that turn into a reality.
An NWAS spokesman said: “The UK government has encouraged the NHS to plan for a number of scenarios in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit and published Operational Guidance which sets out the local actions that providers and commissioners of health and adult social care services in England should take to prepare for EU exit.
“NWAS has undertaken that planning and examined the possible risks of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, and identified eight main areas of focus including medicine, clinical and non clinical goods supplies, workforce, research and clinical trials and business continuity.
“Each of these has a named executive lead to ensure plans are in place. We are also working closely with our NHS, fire and police colleagues.”
Conference calls every 24 hours
NHS organisations in Central Lancashire will hold conference calls every 24 hours in the days leading up to a possible no-deal Brexit at the end of next month.
The so-called “sitrep” - or situation report - updates are part of the plans to mitigate the potential impact of a no-deal scenario on the health service in the region.
The calls will eventually be incorporated into the daily NHS briefings which take place as a matter of course during the winter months to deal with seasonal pressures.
But the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that the virtual gatherings have been brought forward this year because of the looming Brexit deadline - and are likely to begin on or around 26th October.
Those involved will be nominated individuals from Lancashire Teaching Hospitals - which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley hospitals - the GP-led Greater Preston and Chorley and South Ribble clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), mental health provider Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust and a social care representative from Lancashire County Council.
A meeting of the Chorley and South Ribble CCG heard that the management of medicine supplies was one of the main areas of focus for national Brexit planners at the Department of Health - and is the area of the NHS which the government feels that there is “most protection around”.
“I’ll be monitoring things like availability to test whether that’s the case,” said Matt Gaunt, chief finance officer and Brexit lead for Central Lancashire’s two CCGs.
The government has advised individuals – and warned NHS organisations – not to stockpile medication ahead of Brexit.
Chorley CCG GP director Dr John Cairns said that stockpiling by patients should not be possible – because they would be unable to order medicines earlier than would normally be the case.
The committee’s nurse representative, Tricia Hamilton, agreed that stockpiling would be “exactly what we don’t want, [but] undoubtedly, people will be panicking”.
A local communications plan to provide information and advice to Central Lancashire residents is in the final stages of being drawn up.
Government advice to manufacturers of medicines and medical device is for them to build up a six-week supply of stock – over and above the volumes which they would usually hold – and to secure alternative freight routes away from the Channel crossings which are expected to be the most severely disrupted in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Chorley CCG members were told that any impact of a no-deal Brexit on the NHS workforce is unlikely to be felt immediately after the expected departure date of October 31 – and that the implications for the main hospital provider in the area, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, were “quite low” in any case.
Representatives of NHS organisations form across Lancashire recently took part in a one-day “scenario planning” session with Professor Keith Willett, the man in charge of Brexit planning at NHS England.
“Our level of preparedness is good now – as it was when we were due to leave on 29th March,” Matt Gaunt said.
“The difference now is that we are going into the winter period rather than exiting it. so there are greater concerns around resilience. Government policy is unchanged.”
'Nothing to suggest a rise in crime'
The Lancashire Resilience Forum is being led by a team at Lancashire Police’s headquarters in Hutton.
When approached about preparations, the police played down concerns over a rise in crime once the UK leaves the EU.
A spokesman said: “We are well prepared for policing issues that may arise in the event a no deal EU exit, including the impact of delays at borders and ports, potential for protest and disorder, and civil contingencies.
“We expect Brexit and climate change protests to continue in the run up to October 31 but we have no intelligence to suggest a rise in crime or disorder.
“We have, however, considered worst case scenarios. Working with others, we are ready to respond to emergencies to ensure the safety of the public.”
Vital medicine shortages are likely under a No Deal Brexit
Ministers still have a “significant amount” of work to do to ensure the continued supply of vital medicines to the NHS in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Whitehall spending watchdog has warned.
With just five weeks to Britain’s scheduled withdrawal on October 31, the National Audit Office (NAO) said there were still “risks”, with the Department of Health and Social Care lacking full information about levels of stockpiling.
It said additional freight capacity chartered by the Government for shipping priority goods across the Channel may not be fully available until the end of November – a month after the UK is supposed to have left.