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Brexit / Pie and chips on the hospital menu post Brexit?

NHS Shetland chief executive Ralph Roberts. Photo: Shetland News

THE National Health Service in Shetland has been working on three broad areas in an attempt to minimise the effects of a no deal Brexit, according to chief executive Ralph Roberts.

While much of the focus of the Brexit campaign was to cut immigration into the UK, the prospects for recruitment and retention of health workers has been a major headache for services across Britain.

To this end, says Roberts, NHS Shetland has yet to see any “significant impact” from the decision to leave the European Union. Nonetheless it has been working with staff who are citizens of other EU countries to “reassure them that they are a very valued part of the workforce” and that the UK government has put procedures in place for EU residents to enable their ongoing right to live and work in the UK.

He added: “We have worked with them and we have supported them through that. Work has been done at national level about ongoing mutual recognition of qualification and registrations.

“There has been no immediate issue but we are not complacent and will be keeping an eye on it having an impact.”

NHS Shetland had been prepared to pay the £65 fee that had been attached to EU citizens “settled status” with the Scottish government indicating it would support health authorities with this. However prime minister Theresa May announced she would remove that cost from settled status, thereby clearing one of the hurdles towards working in post Brexit Britain.

Some staff have also gone down the time consuming and expensive route of becoming full-blown UK citizens.

Roberts, who announced he would be leaving NHS Shetland last week, said that in terms of medical supplies and medicines, most supply was organised at Scottish and UK national level, but the NHS has been “playing into the national management of that”.

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The government has been making arrangements for stock piles, maintaining existing supply chains and investigating alternative supply chains for equipment, day to day consumables and medicines. But the UK government has also asked individual boards and patients not to stock pile medicines.

He said: “Medicines have been stock piled on a national basis but for individual services to do this would run the risk of massive stock piles of certain things while creating a shortage in the mean time.

“If you asked me how confident I was that Brexit would have no impact on clinical care – I cannot guarantee that – but this has been playing into all the work we have done.

“From a business continuity basis we are trying to manage that and we will have to try and address this as and if it happens to minimise the impact.”

There has also been discussion with Shetland Islands Council about the impact on the broader supply chain into Shetland – most notably for food.

“Well we are not going to buy masses of food up front. There is a risk because of where Shetland is, that would have a knock on effect,” said Roberts.

But the NHS had made sure that the Scottish government was very aware of that  particular risk for Shetland and would continue to press that message from now to the end of March.

“There may end up being an opportunity for local suppliers at a very limited level,” added Roberts.

He said that one factor was that elements of the supply chain were actually in the UK and so would not be impacted by an abrupt British exit.

He said that in a worst case scenario, where imports of fruit and veg were seriously reduced for months,  for instance, hospitals would have to adjust their menus.

Roberts added: “I do not think that we should be speculating about that at this stage.”

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