• Acute care lead Keith Willett to jointly head up no-deal Brexit preparations
  • The 200 strong team will be made up of staff across NHSE and NHSI
  • Professor Willett’s move from A&E role comes with crucial decisions to be made on four hour target

NHS England director of acute care Keith Willett has been seconded to jointly lead a 200 strong team preparing the NHS for a no-deal Brexit, HSJ has learned.

Professor Willett will head the team from across NHSE and NHS Improvement’s national and regional staff, alongside NHSE’s national operations director Matthew Swindells.

The news follows HSJ revealing in December that system leaders were building a Brexit readiness team as “anxiety” and “serious worry” about the potential consequences of the UK leaving the EU continued to grow among the NHS’ national leadership.

Meanwhile, every NHS trust was told in December to appoint a senior responsible officer for Brexit as part of the Department of Health and Social Care’s EU Exit Operational Readiness Guidance.

The document said further guidance would be published in January on a range of issues, including the monitoring of stock levels of medicines, non-medicals and food plus medicines substitution arrangements.

Professor Willett has been in his NHSE role since 2012 and acted as a clinical spokesman for the organisation when it faced considerable pressure last winter.

His move comes at a critical period for his core policy area, with the NHS clinical review of standards, which is due to publish recommendations in the spring, considering reforming the four hour target.

Professor Willett is widely understood to be supportive of reforming the emergency care standards, although the review itself is being led by NHS England medical director Stephen Powis.

Meanwhile, NHSE chief Simon Stevens updated the public accounts committee last week on the NHS’ preparations for the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

He told MPs on 10 January: “If everybody in that no-deal scenario does what they are supposed to do, the NHS will continue to see the goods and supplies flow.

”But we are critically dependent on the transport infrastructure: freight, channel tunnel and air. That is something outside the control of the NHS and will be the critical variable in whether we are able to continue operating normally.”