Delay in agreeing Brexit transition could harm patient care - Health Committee

A delay in agreeing a post-Brexit transition deal could put NHS patient care at risk as more health businesses will divert money towards contingency planning for a "disorderly" withdrawal from the European Union, a senior MP has said.

Commons Health Committee chair Sarah Wollaston said health services and business, including those manufacturing and distributing medicines, "remain in the dark" about Britain's exit from the EU.

Many are planning for a worst-case scenario because "time is running out" for a transition deal to follow the UK's formal exit in March 2019.

Britain and the EU are hoping to reach agreement on a "status quo" transition period of around two years at March's European Council summit of country leaders.

And Ms Wollaston warned in a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt: "If the announcement, and details, of a transition period is delayed beyond March 2018, more businesses will be forced to invest money in contingency plans at the expense of this funding going towards advancing patient care.

"This is an unnecessary cost and distraction, which should be avoided."

She also called on the Government to agree with the EU a joint public statement on protecting the interests of patients in the event of a "no deal" Brexit which would see the UK severing its ties with the European Medicines Agency, which regulates the supply of medical products.

"A joint statement would allay fears of a disorderly exit and honour the commitment both sides have made to protect patient safety," Ms Wollaston said.

"Failing this, and in the event that agreement to a transition is not reached by the end of March, the Committee seeks a commitment from the Government to make its own statement about the UK's unilateral preparations for a no deal situation."

The Government should also publish its contingency planning for healthcare, Ms Wollaston said.

She argued this would strengthen the UK's negotiating position by demonstrating a "credible fall-back position" and allow public scrutiny.

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