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Friday, 21 December 2018

Government drawing up no-deal Brexit food 'substitution' plans for hospitals

Written by David Wilcock and David Hughes

The Government is drawing up plans to stop food shortages from affecting hospital patients in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to official documents.

Doctors and nurses should also be ordered to provide "messages of continuity and reassurance" to patients in the event the UK crashes out of Europe without a Withdrawal Agreement, according to the paper from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

The document, entitled EU Exit Operational Readiness Guidance, was released on Gov.UK on Friday after MPs had left Parliament for the Christmas recess.

Health officials also released no-deal Brexit advice for adult social care providers, which warned them not to stockpile drugs because it "could cause shortages in other areas, which would put patient care at risk".

They were published days after it was revealed that technical papers published by the Government in the summer had been edited to remove the word "unlikely" when discussing the likelihood of no-deal Brexit.

It came as Cabinet minister David Gauke (pictured) said he would find it "very difficult" to remain in Theresa May's Government if the UK appeared on course to crash out of the European Union without a deal.

MPs are due to vote on Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement in January, with no guarantee that it will be passed.

The section of the DHSC guidance on food supplies adds that the department has "identified categories of national suppliers for non-clinical consumables, goods and services that it is reviewing and managing at a national level", including food.

It adds: "Where necessary, there will be cross-government work to implement arrangements at the point of EU Exit to ensure continued supply.

"On food, for example, the Department is engaging with both suppliers and health experts to identify and plan for any food items that might suffer supply disruption in the event of a 'no deal'.

"Standard guidelines will be developed for health and adult social care providers on suitable substitution arrangements for any food items identified as being at risk."

In another section covering the supply of medicines and vaccines was a directive to "all health and adult social care providers" saying: "Direct staff to promote messages of continuity and reassurance to people who use health and care services, including that they should not store additional medicines at home."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously said medicines and vaccines should not be stockpiled by NHS units, saying it should be done by suppliers.

The document also says an "operational response centre" has been set up by the department with support from NHS England and Public Health England.

This will "lead on responding to any disruption to the delivery of health and care services in England, that may be caused or affected by EU exit", it says.

It will also "work with the devolved administrations to respond to UK-wide incidents".

In a letter accompanying the guidance, DHSC permanent secretary Sir Chris Wormald wrote: "With just over three months remaining until exit day, we have now reached the point where we need to ramp up 'no deal' preparations.

"This means the Department, alongside all other government departments, will now enact the remaining elements of our 'no deal' plans.

"Delivering the deal remains the Government's top priority and is the best 'no deal' mitigation.

"But in line with the Government's principal operational focus on national 'no deal' planning, actions must now be taken locally to manage the risks of a 'no deal' exit."

The Prime Minister is battling to maintain Cabinet discipline as senior ministers set out rival plans for dealing with the potential rejection of her Brexit plan next month.

Mrs May has stressed that a no-deal Brexit is a possible outcome if her plan is rejected by MPs in January's Commons showdown.

But Justice Secretary Mr Gauke said: "I think making a conscious decision to proceed with no deal would not be the responsible course of action."

He would be "very surprised if the Prime Minister went down that route".

Asked if he could remain in the Cabinet if that became the Government's policy, he told the BBC's Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast: "I think it would be very difficult for me in those circumstances.

"I am conscious that there is a risk of an accidental no deal... although Parliament clearly doesn't want no deal, it's not clear that there is a majority for a specific course of action to stop no deal.

"The best way of stopping no deal is to back the Prime Minister's deal in my view.

"So I think it would be very difficult and I think if it came down to the Government saying consciously, 'well, we'll just have to do that', I don't think there would be a lot of support for it."

Mr Gauke is rumoured to be one of a group of senior ministers who would quit the Cabinet if the UK was heading to a no-deal Brexit.

But in a sign of the increased focus on the battles to come if Mrs May's plan is rejected, rival alternatives to the deal have been set out by Cabinet ministers.

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said a "managed no-deal" Brexit was a possibility, while Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd acknowledged there was a "plausible argument" for a second referendum.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.