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Hospital Brexit plans not released in Freedom of Information request as 'not in the public interest' to do so

Two hospital trusts in the county have refused to reveal details of their Brexit contingency plans, saying that it is not in the public interest to do so.

The Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust and the East Kent University NHS Foundation Trust have rejected Freedom of Information requests made by KentOnline.

A medicine shortage is one scenario predicted if the UK was to leave the EU with no deal
A medicine shortage is one scenario predicted if the UK was to leave the EU with no deal

Both trusts have relied on an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act to withhold any details of of their Brexit contingency plans.

They say the release of any information could be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs.

Neither of the two trusts have explained why they believe that putting information into the public domain would affect the way they are preparing.

In its response, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells cited the same exemption but did set out in broad terms some of the measures they have already taken.

They include staffing issues; the supply of medicines and medical equipment; the supply of non-medical goods and reciprocal health care.

It recently emerged that East Kent had booked a small number of hotel rooms for essential staff in the event of a no-deal Brexit that could cause serious congestion and delays on Kent roads, particularly the M20.

The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford is considered to be particularly vulnerable because of its proximity to the M20. One of the key elements of Operation Brock is the contraflow along the motorway between Ashford and Maidstone.

The government's own Brexit contingency strategy - Operation Yellowhammer - was released this week after MPs voted for it to be disclosed.

The report identified particular challenges for the NHS. It said: “The reliance of medicines and medical products’ supply chains on the short straits crossing, make them particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays; three-quarters of medicines come via the short straights.

"Whilst some products can be stockpiled others cannot due to short shelf lives - it will also not be practical to stockpile products to cover expected delays of up to six months. DHSC is developing a multi-layered approach to mitigate these risks.”

Kent County Council has flagged up the issue of vital medical supplies potentially being caught up in any long-term disruption and delays caused by Brexit.

It has urged the government to find a way to give priority to lorries from the EU delivering medicine to hospitals in Kent.

Health leaders have also warned about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit.

In a joint statement – signed by 11 organisations including the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Midwives, UNISON, GMB, Unite and TUC – they call on the government to “take no deal off the table”.

“A no deal could cause significant disruption to the supply of medicine, lasting up to six months. Many medicines, including life-saving agents for cancer diagnosis and therapy, cannot be stockpiled and for those that can, stockpiles could run out. These kinds of shortages and delays can be fatal. No responsible government should take that risk.”

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