NHS could ‘quickly run out of vital supplies’ without Brexit deal

NHS trusts could ‘quickly run out of vital medical supplies’ if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, hospital boss warns

  • Dr David Rosser, CEO of hospitals in Birmingham, warned staff in a memo
  • He said the NHS could face an ‘unprecedented challenge’ in the event of no-deal
  • As well as drug and supply shortages, more foreign staff could leave the country
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The NHS could run out of medicine and face staff departures if the country crashes out of the EU without a deal, a hospital chief executive has warned.

Dr David Rosser, who runs the University Hospitals Birmingham trust, one of the biggest in the UK, warned a no-deal Brexit could trigger ‘unprecedented’ problems.

He said hospital trusts could quickly run out of ‘vital’ medicines despite attempts to stockpile and there could be ‘severe and widespread risks to patient safety’.

Dr Rosser also warned more staff may leave the country if the atmosphere becomes more hostile in the country and the pound becomes less valuable.

Parliament yesterday voted against delaying Brexit, meaning the UK is on course to still leave in March, whether Theresa May has secured a trade agreement or not.

Dr David Rosser, CEO of the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust, warned vital medicines could run out ‘quickly’ if the UK leaves the EU without a deal

UHB – which runs the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham (pictured) – is one of the biggest NHS trusts in the UK and treats more than 2.2million patients each year

University Hospitals Birmingham is one of the largest NHS trusts in the UK and treats more than 2.2millon patients per year.

Dr Rosser has been chief executive at the trust since September and has worked there since 1996.

In a memo to the UHB’s board of directors last week, he said: ‘In terms of the potential for major operational impact and severe and widespread risks to patient safety, by far the greatest concern is the availability of medicines, devices and clinical supplies.’

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He added the Department of Health and Social Care had identified potential supply shortcomings but its findings had not been shared with individual hospitals.

Trusts could face a ‘completely unprecedented challenge’ if they are suddenly hit with shortages of medicines and supplies, he warned.

He had drawn up the memo after being aked to set out how the trust was planning to cope with a no-deal Brexit.

Dr Rosser said: ‘It is assumed that a significant proportion of the medicines and consumables we use at UHB on a daily basis may be at risk.’

He also raised concerns about more departures among the hospitals’ approximately 1,200 staff from the European Union.


Eighty drugs are now so low in stock the Department of Health is, in some cases, paying a price 45 per cent higher than usual and racking up thousands in added costs.

Among them are blood pressure pills and anti-inflammatories, and some patients are being told to go back to their doctor to ask for something different.

Global demand, the cost of ingredients and new regulations are all possible reasons why pharmacies are struggling to get hold of certain medications.

And there is disagreement between experts over whether uncertainty about Brexit is worsening the situation, which has been called ‘a threat to patient safety’.

A monthly list of drugs in short supply is managed by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).

BBC analysis revealed the number of medications on the list for December was six times higher than it was three years ago.

Some 262 of the trust’s doctors are Europeans, as well as 375 nurses and 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.

‘It is difficult to prepare detailed predictions or plans for such unpredictable concerns, however it is difficult to see any scenario whereby a no deal or other chaotic Brexit does not significantly impact our ability to safely treat our patients.’ 

The warning comes just a day after another Brexit-related health scare, when the NHS said it would stop blood donations in Folkestone and Dover in the weeks surrounding Brexit.

NHS Blood and Transplant said it would suspend donation sessions in March and April to avoid traffic expected to build up around the port of Dover.

But the Department of Health last night overruled this and said donations would continue as normal in Kent.

The move, only publicised by the NHS for a few hours before being shot down by the Government, had been branded ‘reckless’ and ‘irresponsible’ by MPs. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘The Department does not agree with this course of action. 

‘We’ve discussed this issue with NHSBT and confirmed blood donations will continue as normal.

‘We’re grateful to all lifesaving blood donors who make an important contribution.’ 

How could a second referendum happen? As talk of a new Brexit vote reaches No 10 this is what must take place for Britain to have another say

Talk about a second referendum on Brexit is getting louder by the week – with reports suggesting it is now a live issue inside Downing Street.

Despite a growing clamour holding a new vote is a complicated and lengthy process, requiring new laws, agreement on a question – and a delay to Brexit day on March 29.

Theresa May has insisted repeatedly that a new referendum would betray Leave voters in 2016 and will not happen on her watch.

But Parliament could force the PM into the decision if it rejects her divorce deal by the expected landslide in January – prompting Nigel Farage to tell Leave campaigners to prepare for another vote.

A new referendum would take almost six months – at least – to pass the necessary laws, establish campaigns and actually have the battle at the ballot box 

Why do people say there needs to be a second referendum?

Theresa May’s Brexit deal has no majority in Parliament – and it is not clear any other deal has a majority either, even if one could be negotiated.

Passing the question back to voters is seen by some as a way to end the impasse and give a clear instruction to politicians on what to do.

Some campaigners also say the 2016 referendum was not an informed choice because too many of the implications of Leave were unknown. 

What do critics think?

Many people – led by the Prime Minister herself – say a new vote on Brexit would betray the people who voted Leave in 2016. They insist there was a clear order from the public to Leave the EU and politicians must follow it, working out the details for themselves.

Unionists also complain that accepting a new referendum on Brexit would pave the way for another referendum on Scottish independence, threatening the future of the UK. 

Some politicians also feel it would simply reopen the wounds from the 2016 battle without really deciding anything more clearly.  

What needs to happen for a referendum to happen?

Parliament would need to pass a new law for a referendum to be held. This process alone would take weeks and would likely be very controversial.

Before that can even happen, for political reasons there would probably have to be some kind of moment creating a ‘mandate’ for a new referendum as it is something neither of the main parties promised at the last election.

This might be a simple vote of MPs after Mrs May’s deal has been rejected. The Government could call such a vote at any time. Labour also has some opportunities to call a vote – though winning such a vote would have less power.

It could even be a whole general election where one or more sides puts a new referendum in their manifesto. 

What would the question and be who decides? 

Nobody knows for sure – and this is probably the hardest question of all.

Some say it should be a simple repeat of last time, with Leave or Remain on the ballot paper. Others say it should be Remain versus Mrs May’s Brexit deal.

Others advocate a two stage referendum – between Remain and Leave, followed by Mrs May’s deal versus No Deal if Leave wins. 

Still others say there could be multiple questions on the ballot paper, possible using a ranking system known as alternative vote.

The Electoral Commission would make a recommendation and MPs would make the final decision on what the question would be. 

Would exit have to be delayed from March 29? 

Yes. On the shortest timescale imaginable, a referendum would take almost six months from the point the decision was taken – something which has not happened yet. Exit day is less than four months away.

How long does it take to call and fight a referendum? 

There is no fixed schedule but former Cabinet minister Justine Greening last month set out a 22 week timetable – just under six months start to finish

This assumes about 11 weeks to pass the necessary laws and another 11 weeks for the campaign – both a preliminary period to set up formal campaigns on each side and then a main short campaign.

This would in theory allow a referendum by mid June 2019 – a full three years after the last one. 

Lots of factors could cause delays and short of sweeping political agreement on the rules of a campaign almost no way to speed up the process. 

Would the result be any more decisive?

Probably not. Unlike last time, the referendum law could make the result legally binding and the question could be more specific than last time.

But polls suggest the country remains just as divided as in 2016 – suggesting the result could be just as close as the 52% to 48% Leave win next time.   


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