• DHSC attempts to stop trusts publishing Brexit impact self-assessments
  • Officials said publication could pose risks to “public wellbeing”
  • Guidance set out which legal exemptions should be used to justify withholding the details

The Department of Health and Social Care has told trusts to withhold their Brexit self-assessments from the press and public because publishing the details could “put public wellbeing at risk”, HSJ can reveal.

Correspondence to trusts from the DHSC, seen by HSJ, outlined how NHS organisations should justify not publishing the details. The UK is set to leave the EU on 29 March, unless an extension is agreed. 

The instructions came after HSJ submitted freedom of information (FOI) requests to every trust in England, asking for their self-assessments of the impact of Brexit on their non-clinical goods and services and on their EU workforce.

After being notified of the requests by several trusts, the DHSC issued guidance stating trusts should “not share this information”.

It said releasing the details could cause trusts “premature financial harm, and so possibly put public wellbeing at risk”.

Additionally, releasing the details could “prejudice the commercial interests of the entities involved in the exercise”.

“You will note that the templates issued were marked as ‘Official Sensitive’ on the basis that the content would not be shared publicly,” the DHSC guidance stated.

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The guidance issued to trusts from the Department of Health and Social Care

The guidance also recommended applying two exemptions of the FOI legislation (sections 29 and 43) as justification for withholding the information.

Each trust’s FOI lead should be responsible for considering which exemptions to apply and the wording of the response, according to the guidance.

But, despite the guidance, several trusts chose to release their entire self-assessments. Some trusts have also included parts of the information in their publicly-available board papers.

However, around 150 trusts have either withheld the self-assessments using various FOI exemptions or not responded to HSJ’s request.

A DHSC spokeswoman said trusts’ self-assessments of their supply chains was a “vital part” of the work to “prepare for every eventuality”, and “in order to secure high quality information it was important commercially sensitive details about suppliers were treated in confidence”.

“We have robust contingency plans in place and we are confident that, if everyone does what they need to do, there should be no impact on patients in the event of exiting the EU without a deal,” she added.

Last month, HSJ reported how health arm’s-length bodies were told to get clearance for all public texts, tweets, emails, phone calls and press releases relating to Brexit by the DHSC and the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Revealed: Government instructs trusts to withhold Brexit impact assessments