• SECAmb understood to be holding internal discussions about costs from potential traffic disruption
  • Financial strain could stem from overtime, getting help from other ambulance trusts and hiring more private ambulance services
  • Trust also understood to be in talks with government about extra support

An ambulance trust is expecting a multimillion pound hit to its bottom line if the UK crashes out of the European Union without a deal next month.

A source has told HSJ South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust has held internal discussions focused on additional costs, which could run into millions of pounds, if no-deal Brexit leads to severe traffic disruption. 

The bill consists of costs linked to staff – such as paying overtime if journeys take longer to complete and having to put some staff up in hotels – as well as potentially calling on other ambulance trusts for help and hiring more private ambulance services.

It is also understood the trust is in talks with government about extra financial support but, at the moment, the government’s offer does not fully cover the forecast costs. 

The trust confirmed to HSJ it would face substantial cost pressures in the wake of a no-deal Brexit, but declined to provide details of how much.

However, a source told HSJ the additional costs could amount to several million pounds a month, while the government offer was currently around £1m a month. When approached about the figures, the trust said it did not recognise some of the figures provided to HSJ, although it did not clarify which ones it disagreed with.

The trust board is also understood to be considering whether it needs to change to its dispatch model in the event of widespread disruption. However, final decisions on whether changes will be brought in will ultimately be made on a day-by-day, or even hour-by-hour basis depending on the extent of disruption it is facing.

A statement from SECAmb said: “As part of planning for any EU Exit scenario, the government has invested in NHS preparedness to help maintain access to services for patients. This includes supporting the mutual aid provision, where it has been identified as a sensible and necessary part of local plans, as well as some of the other additional operational costs that the trust may incur.

“Our plans are designed to ensure that we are well prepared to manage any impact of the UK’s exit from the EU, given our geographical location and important role we play in serving the public and we will continue to work closely with the government and other organisations locally on our plans.”

HSJ asked the Department of Health and Social Care what additional funding would be available to SECAmb and other trusts in the south east, whether SECAmb had been offered £1m a month and which other NHS organsations would be offered assistance and at what level.

A DHSC spokesman responded: ”We are doing everything we can, working across the NHS, government, local government and with national partners, to help ensure people continue to receive the highest standards of care after Brexit on 31 October.

 “EU workers play a vital role across the health and social care system and we want them to continue to do so. Over 6,300 more have joined the NHS since the referendum, and we continue to encourage those living and working in the UK to apply for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

”As part of nationally co-ordinated activity to respond to risks of disruption in Kent, we are working with South East Coast Ambulance Services to finalise plans that will ensure ambulance and healthcare services will continue to operate effectively.”

The DHSC would not comment on additional funding for the trust or any other NHS organisation.  

SECAmb covers Kent, Surrey, Sussex and part of north east Hampshire. Traffic disruption from a no-deal Brexit is expected to severely affect east Kent but could also impact other major routes in the trust’s catchment, such as the M25 and A3.   

When ambulance services face severe pressure, there are various measures they take in an effort to maintain swift responses to the most serious and life-threatening calls. These include deploying additional staff, stopping non-essential work to free up staff for operational duties, and sometimes not sending crews to all less serious cases – the category 3 and 4 calls.

Patients in category 3 or 4 can be asked if they have other ways of getting to hospital, such as a lift from family, or can access other healthcare.


Updated 13.24 1 October with comment from DHSC.