Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland health trust Brexit plans too alarming to be seen by public

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.
Concerns: Paula Bradshaw

By Lisa Smyth

Health bosses have refused to reveal what plans are in place to protect patient safety in Northern Ireland if there is a no-deal Brexit, saying to do so could cause "alarm".

The Belfast 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".

Health professionals have raised serious concerns about patient safety in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU.

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

It is also unclear whether doctors will be at risk of a criminal conviction if they carry drugs across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Meanwhile, nursing unions have also expressed concerns over the effect of a no-deal Brexit on Northern Ireland's crisis-hit nursing workforce, which already has 2,600 unfilled nursing posts.

It is estimated that more than 350 nurses live and travel from the Republic to work in the health service in Northern Ireland, so there are concerns that the number of unfilled posts could grow further.

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The Belfast Trust was asked, using Freedom of Information legislation, to release a copy of its business impact analysis on the effects of a no-deal Brexit and associated contingency arrangements.

In a refusal notice, the trust said releasing the information was not in the public interest.

It said: "With the potential to impact service delivery and the potential to cause unnecessary confusion and alarm if our planning documents were released, the trust has concluded that on balance the public interest in favour of withholding the information requested outweighs the public interest in disclosure at this time."

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said the stance taken by health officials is adding to public concerns.

"The simple fact is that not releasing information to the public on the basis that 'it may cause alarm' is itself going to cause alarm," she said.

"If the public can be trusted with the decision to leave the EU, it must also be trusted with information about the consequences of that choice.

"The public have a fundamental right to know what the impact would be on their health and social care services in the event of a crash-out, no-deal Brexit brought to us against the will of the people of Northern Ireland by the collapsing minority government propped up by the DUP."

It is not the first time that government departments in Northern Ireland have refused to release details about plans to mitigate the effects of a no-deal Brexit.

FoI requests to Stormont departments, including health and infrastructure, seeking Brexit contingency planning have been refused.

And in January it emerged that the Government has been advising public bodies on how to avoid answering FoI requests about no-deal Brexit planning.

It came to light when The Independent reported details of a leaked report, marked "sensitive", which provided tips on how to refuse to deal with requests about contingency planning using exemptions under FoI legislation.

Health officials have insisted they are working hard to ensure services will not be affected by a no-deal Brexit. This includes stockpiling medication.

However, it is understood this will not be possible in the case of insulin and radioisotopes, which are used for scans and some cancer treatments.

A briefing document from the Royal College of Radiologists said the supply of radioisotopes may be disrupted "as any transport delays will reduce the amount of useful radioisotope because they decay within hours or days of production".

The report said that to ensure the long-term supply of radioisotopes for use in the UK will require an investment of up to £400m and will also take 10 years.

A spokesman from the Belfast Trust said he could not comment on the decision to withhold the no-deal Brexit document as the Department of Health is leading on matters relating to Brexit.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said: "The decision maker regarding application of any exemptions is the organisation that hold the data requested, in this case the Belfast Trust.

"The normal course of action for an individual who is not satisfied by a response to an FoI request is to seek an internal review," the spokeswoman added.

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