Belfast Telegraph

Former Health Ministers call for Northern Ireland health trust chiefs to release 'alarming' Brexit plans

Former Health Ministers Michelle O'Neill and Jim Wells.
Former Health Ministers Michelle O'Neill and Jim Wells.
Former Health Ministers' Michelle O'Neill and Jim Wells.

Two former Health Ministers have called on the Belfast Trust to release their no-deal Brexit plans after they claimed to do so would cause "alarm" among the public.

The Belfast Telegraph exclusively revealed on Thursday that the trust said it will not release a document outlining the impact on services, and the action it is taking to mitigate the potential effects, as it could cause "unnecessary confusion".

The Belfast Trust has now come under pressure to release the plans with politicians from across Northern Ireland saying to keep it secret would do more harm than good.

Former Stormont Health Ministers Michelle O'Neill and Jim Wells have criticised the decision and called for the plans to be released immediately.

Sinn Fein vice-president O'Neill said Permanent Secretary at the Department for Health Richard Pengelly "must publish these plans urgently".

Her party colleague Colm Gildernew has written to the Department of Health with a list of questions to be addressed "as we approach October 31 and a possible crash Brexit".

“It’s disgraceful that vital information is being withheld from the public given the major impact it could have on people’s lives," the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said.

“After pressing the department for over a year, we are still no clearer as to what plans are in place to ensure health services aren't severely impacted by Brexit.

“To date, assurances from the Department have been meaningless and devoid of any detail which causes grave concern for both patients and medical professionals."

Let people scrutinise and suggest ways of getting around any problems. Jim Wells, DUP

It has been claimed that some cancer treatments and the supply of insulin could be affected by a no-deal Brexit.
It has been claimed that some cancer treatments and the supply of insulin could be affected by a no-deal Brexit.

Former DUP Health Minister Mr Wells said that it was "deeply unacceptable" that the information had been withheld.

"It's probably more alarming to have a headline saying it's too dangerous to publish, rather than being open and honest with the community," the South Down MLA told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

"I think it should be published so that people can scrutinise and see whether in fact what they are saying is valid."

Mr Wells said that work was "going on behind the scenes" to lessen the problems caused by "whatever form of Brexit we have".

However, he said that the political situation was moving so quickly "that it was important to have complete openness".

"Remember the swine flu issue when the then Health Minister Micheal McGimpsey refused to release information on the impact of swine flu and it caused huge concern," Mr Wells said.

"When the actual information was published the public at least knew where they stood and could take action appropriately.

"This line 'we don't wish to alarm the public' I think is not tenable and I would call upon the trust even though perhaps this information is now quite out of date to publish and let people scrutinise and suggest ways of getting around any problems they perceive."

The culture of secrecy that has pervaded these preparations must be broken. Mark H Durkan, SDLP

SDLP health spokesperson Mark H Durkan said that the "culture of secrecy" around no-deal planning must end and said he would also be contacting the trust, the Health and Social Care Board and Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly.

"If a no-deal exit threatens health services, the safe supply of medicines or provision of treatment, or workforce stability then service users have a right to know. Refusing to disclose this information will only cause further undue alarm," the Foyle MLA said.

“The Trust is right to make preparations to secure patient and public safety in the event of a no-deal Brexit. They cannot, however, determine that these efforts are to be made in secret and that people should be kept in the dark about what we can expect to happen from November 1.

"The culture of secrecy that has pervaded these preparations must be broken."

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