UNDER NORMAL political circumstances, Theresa May would be fending off difficult questions about missed deadlines over the publication of the NHS long-term plan after saying that “it couldn’t wait” until next year’s spending review. Yet the fact that this strategy – and review of social care – are both on hold reveals how Brexit is overwhelming the Government.
However this inaction will quickly return to haunt Mrs May if the NHS is not in a position to put together a Brexit plan in the event of no exit deal being struck with the European Union. As such, today’s cross-party report by Parliament’ Public Accounts Committee makes for urgent reading. It points to over 100,000 vacancies in the NHS, which equates to 10 per cent of the workforce, and staff from overseas leaving hospitals because of prevailing confusion over immigration policy.
If patients end up waiting longer for treatment, or have their operations cancelled because of staff shortages, public opinion – still sympathetic towards Mrs May – will quickly turn against the PM and add to her woes.
The same is also applicable to the procurement of medicines, and other equipment, in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Even though the Department of Health brushed aside concerns, it offered little reassurance about contingency arrangements.
The surprise is that MPs have asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock to respond by January 31 next year. By then, it could be too late if Parliament remains in deadlock over Brexit. The onus should be on the Cabinet Minister to reply by the end of this month – at the very latest – and to make public his plans.