Published: 18:45, 29 October 2020
| Updated: 19:03, 29 October 2020
Major concerns have been raised about the impact of Britain's departure from the European Union (EU) on health services in the county, including NHS staff departures.
NHS bosses in Kent have been warned about several issues. These include medical supply disruptions while Kent's 1.5million residents may struggle to access hospital care because of major congestion on motorways.
Ashford's William Harvey Hospital, located off J10a of the M20, has been described as "operationally significant" and whose key health services, such as a major trauma unit, could be disturbed. It is based less than two miles away from a Brexit lorry park for 1,700 HGVs in Sevington.
Several NHS contingency plans are in place, including the recruitment of a new incident commander to deal with emergency problems, such as any future Covid lockdowns and Brexit welfare issues for drivers stuck in queues.
Earlier today, Gillian Lewis, the chair of the CCG's primary commissioning committee, said she was worried about the prospect of Europeans leaving the NHS because they no longer feel welcome in the UK after December 31.
At Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group's (CCG) governing body meeting, she said: “I hope that people do not feel encouraged to move away because of what is happening with the EU transition period at the moment.”
In response, Mike Gilbert, who is the executive director of corporate affairs at the county-wide health body, said the overseas staffing issue was a “key consideration” for the CCG, but believes the negative impact of Brexit could be “minimal”.
I hope that people do not feel encouraged to move away because of what is happening with the EU transition period at the moment...”
Optimistically, he said: “The EU settlement that the government has put in place is running and encouraging European health and social care staff working in the NHS to continue to work there.
"They can apply and continue to apply for their new settlement status up until June 30 next year. As long as they are working in the UK by December 31.”
HR systems have also been updated at several Kent hospitals. Under this, a formal reporting service will be introduced to examine the impact of Brexit on the departure of any health workers after December 31.
Meanwhile, the government has outlined a reasonable worse-case scenario which could see daily queues of 7,000 lorries crossing the Channel Tunnel. Custom checkpoints have been set up in Ebbsfleet, Thanet and Ashford to minimise travel congestion.
The traffic disruption is anticipated to increase journey times for patients visiting hospital and GPs working from their surgeries.
However, Covid lockdowns and the government's encouragement of home working could help to reduce the potential impact, NHS bosses have been told.
Mr Gilbert said: "If France is in lockdown then the potential traffic driving through Kent is potentially going to be less.
"So the modelling for this is very fluid at the moment. We have worse case scenarios and maximum expected freight and holiday traffic coming through.
“I think one of the things that we are planning for is no major impact on January 1 or 2 because people will not want to go near the M20 or Dover for quite some time.
“But, after two or three weeks people might forget about it and all of a sudden that’s potentially when the border agency checks will pick up."
"If France is in lockdown then the potential traffic driving through Kent is potentially going to be less..."
However, he added: "Our ability to remote work and to do telephone and video consultations will absolutely help."
Despite this, some concerns were raised to NHS bosses about the adequate rollout of laptops for health staff.
Regular meetings have been held with the national health body, NHS England, on the digital front and the issue of the expansion of IT provision for all members of staff has been raised.
Future updates will be expected at next month's Kent and Medway CCG's governing body meeting.