HSJ brings you an end-of-week roundup of Brexit health news.

It was a bad week for openness and transparency in the NHS, after HSJ revealed the Department of Health and Social Care had told trusts not to release details of their Brexit impact self-assessments.

The guidance was issued after HSJ asked every trust in England, through the Freedom of Information Act, to send their assessments.

The assessments, which were due to be completed earlier this year, were drawn up following the DHSC’s instructions, and form an important part of the department’s planning for a no-deal Brexit.

Despite being statutory bodies, which should be far enough away from the nest to be capable of making their own decisions, several trusts first decided to ask the DHSC if they should release their assessments.

In a response which bore the hallmarks of a helicopter parent, the DHSC told trusts they should not do so because it could break “commercial confidentiality” and “put public wellbeing at risk”. Its officials even explained which exemptions should be used.

While 70 trusts dutifully responded as instructed, a number felt these justifications were not sufficient grounds to refuse publication under the legislation (or perhaps they were going through a rebellious teenage phase) and sent over the details anyway. 

Those trusts’ honesty casts strong doubts over the validity of the DHSC’s advice, and the refusal of other trusts to release the information.

Promising retention rates

Data from the trusts which went against the DHSC’s instructions indicates the self-assessments contain few details of genuine concern to the NHS as a whole.

Nearly 50 trusts said there was no evidence to suggest EU staff were leaving because of Brexit, and they had not found any services that could be vulnerable if a shortage of EU staff transpired.

Several trusts even reported an increase in the number of EU staff joining, while the number of trusts which had seen reductions could be counted on one hand.

Without data from the rest of the trusts, it is not possible to draw a complete conclusion, but the figures indicate retaining EU staff – and maintaining current services – will not be a big problem after Brexit.

Food for thought

Less than 10 trusts sent HSJ their full self-assessment for non-clinical goods and services, which is more understandable than withholding the workforce data.

However, the data received showed trusts had only found a handful of small risks from the hundreds of suppliers they deal with.

One interesting entry was found in Tees, Esk and Wear Foundation Trust’s response, which stated contingency plans to stockpile frozen food and substitute hot meals with cold meals would be enacted in the event of a food shortage caused by a no-deal Brexit.

This would allow the trust to “operate for four days”, and the plans did not state what would happen after that. Fortunately, the trust did not rate the scenario as a likely occurring risk.