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NHS leaders have called on Boris Johnson to extend the Brexit transition period by a month, telling the prime minister that a no-deal exit could risk the health of patients during the Covid-19 crisis.
Faced with an alarming rise in infections, they said a month’s delay would take the health service out of “the immediate danger zone” and would “enable the NHS to continue to focus on fighting the pandemic without having to contend with disruptive changes brought about by a no-deal outcome”.
The call came in an NHS Confederation letter telling Johnson that “tough” action similar to the new tier 4 rules was needed to avoid a disruptive cliff-edge moment on 1 January and help protect the NHS.
It said: “There are now nearly 19,000 patients in hospital with Covid-19, close to the first-wave peak, and the conveyor belt is picking up speed as we head into the festive period.”
Health leaders said the NHS faced having to make significant adjustments in a short timespan as new rules, guidance and information would be introduced from 1 January without a deal.
On Sunday the rate of recorded positive cases in the UK doubled over a week and the number of non-Covid patients waiting more than a year for treatment now stands at 160,000, according to the NHS Confederation. All this was happening as the vaccine rollout had begun while the workforce was tired and depleted, it said.
The letter said: “The NHS might not be perceived to be on the Brexit negotiating table, but the disruption shockwaves from a no-deal outcome could push the NHS’s ability to function over the edge.
“Given we are days away from the cliff edge, we urge you to extend the transition period by a month, buying the NHS a precious few extra weeks and enabling the UK to leave the EU after a one-year transition period.”
NHS Confederation members in the south-east of England have already raised fears that a no-deal Brexit will see ambulances struggling to reach patients and medics being delayed for their clinics due to major congestion on the Kent roads.
They could have these barriers while facing some of the highest levels of Covid-19 infections, and the additional risks that the increased traffic, lorry parks and congestion could bring to NHS services in the south-east, it is suggested.
The NHS Confederation chief executive, Danny Mortimer, said: “The UK has just recorded its highest ever daily rise in infections and over the next few days patients in hospital with Covid-19 will breach the peak of the first wave.
“The virus has found another gear and will leave the NHS in its wake, so we support the actions the government has taken to protect the NHS. But a similarly tough stance is needed in the event of a no-deal outcome.”
A government spokesman said: “Our healthcare system will thrive after the transition period and we continue to explore every route to a deal.
“We are on our way to delivering 50,000 more nurses by the end of this parliament and providing a record cash funding boost of £33.9bn extra a year for the NHS by 2023-24.
“We have worked closely with the health and care system, suppliers, industry and the devolved administrations to put in place robust measures to ensure the continued supply of medicines and medical products so everyone can receive the highest quality care.”
The NHS Confederation’s intervention came after a report from the Nuffield Trust thinktank concluded: “The perilously uncertain future facing the UK at the end of the Brexit transition period could put the UK’s health and care system at risk.”
Its research, carried out with academics from the universities of Oxford, Sheffield and Michigan and funded by the Health Foundation, said new migration rules, possible disruption to medicines and devices, an ongoing economic slowdown and barriers to science investment would hit the health sector.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: NHS chiefs urge PM to extend Brexit transition by a month | Society