DHSC 'best prepared department' for Brexit as no deal fears grow

Doctors have warned that a no-deal Brexit would pose a major threat to patient care, despite claims from a former health minister that the DHSC is the 'best prepared department in Whitehall' for leaving the EU.

Parliament (Photo: Nuwan/Getty Images)
Parliament (Photo: Nuwan/Getty Images)

Former health minister Steve Brine quit his role as public health minister last week after revealing he planned to vote against prime minister Theresa May’s withdrawal deal.

In his resignation letter, Mr Brine paid tribute to ‘the highly competent and professional team at DHSC’, where he served as a public health minister for 20 months.

He said the department had done ‘everything they can to ensure medicines and medical supplies will be protected for patients whatever form our exit from the EU takes’.

‘Health is without question the best prepared department in Whitehall and the team deserve credit for that,’ he added.

Mr Brine went on to say that, although he had supported Mrs May’s deal previously ‘and would do so again without hesitation’, he was ‘passionate’ that a no-deal scenario was ‘not acceptable to me or in the national interest’, and felt the only way for parliament to find a common position on the issue would be through indicative votes.

Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement has since been defeated in the House of Commons for a third time, and parliament has started voting on alternative Brexit options - none of which has won majority support as yet.

Meanwhile, NHS England chief Simon Stevens thanked colleagues ‘both across the NHS and inside NHS England and Improvement for all the work that has gone into contingency planning’ for a no-deal Brexit, but warned ‘we are not out of the woods yet’.

Speaking at a board meeting last week, Mr Stevens asked those present to ‘stay focused on the possibility [of a no-deal Brexit] with April 12 as the next nearest date’.

In a letter to CCGs and trust chief executives published yesterday, NHS England EU exit strategic commander Professor Keith Willett said that contingency plans were ‘well advanced’.

He wrote: ‘While we never give guarantees, if everyone – including suppliers, freight companies, international partners, and the health and care system - does what they need to do, the supply of medicines and medical products should be uninterrupted in the event of exiting the EU without a deal.’

However, the BMA has renewed its call for a public vote over the UK’s EU exit amid concern that the government’s most recent defeat ‘brings the risk of a no-deal Brexit dangerously close to reality’.

No-deal

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘As the BMA has long warned, if we leave the EU on 12 April with no deal in place, this will have grave consequences for the medical workforce, the supply of medicines and the quality of care that the NHS can offer its patients.

‘Amid this chaos in Westminster, politicians on both sides of the channel cannot afford to simply let the clock run down to this cliff edge. Given what is at stake, and for the very sake of their health, the BMA believes that the British people simply must be given the final say in a public vote.’

GPonline reported last week that GP leaders and health chiefs from across the UK had called on government to rule out a no-deal Brexit. In a joint letter to Theresa May, senior doctors - including RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard and former NAPC leader Dr Nav Chana - said they were ‘increasingly alarmed at the risks associated with a no-deal Brexit’.

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