EMERGENCY plans are being drawn up by Portsmouth City Council amid mounting fears a no-deal Brexit could cripple the area’s health services, The News can reveal.
A cross-party group of politicians from the authority are being rallied together next month to thrash out a worst-case scenario plan of action in case Brexit turns into a disaster.
They will be joined by some of the city’s top civil servants, including the council’s director of regeneration, Tristan Samuels, and Mike Sellers, the director of Portsmouth International Port.
It’s hoped the working party will be able to prepare the city for any eventuality when Britain cuts ties with the European Union on March 29.
The group has the backing of all three of the council’s major parties, the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour.
Lib Dem chief and city council boss, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson said there were many areas for Portsmouth to be concerned about, which the council has been working to address in the past few months.
However, the impact a no-deal Brexit could have on staffing at Queen Alexandra Hospital and the effect it could have on Portsmouth’s port, were top of his list
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We’re so dependant on EU workers to run health services what happens if they all go home, how can we provide care for people in hospitals and in social care?
‘It’s happening already, the number of European nurses and doctors in the NHS is falling. We have supplemented the number of UK nurses and doctors by hiring from Europe for many years.
‘In the south of England there are now 18,000 vacancies in health and social care. It’s such a large number that if every kid leaving school at 16 across the whole of Hampshire went into health care, there would still be vacancies.’
Nicole Cornelius, director of human resources and workforce at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust which runs QA said: ‘We have plans in place and are meeting regularly to help ensure we are fully prepared and that there is no disruption to services in the event of a “no deal” Brexit scenario.
‘We will also pay the settlement fee for EU staff following Brexit in a show of support for our colleagues from Europe.
‘Our staff from the EU are a vital part of our NHS family and we are doing all we can to make sure they continue to feel welcome here.’
Portsmouth’s Labour leader, Councillor Stephen Morgan, is supporting the council effort.
However, Cllr Morgan – who is also Portsmouth South MP – was critical of how long it has taken to set up the group.
Speaking ahead of its first meeting next month, he said: ‘It is vital that work is undertaken to understand the impact of Brexit in our city and prepare Portsmouth for all eventualities.
‘This is something I have been urging government and local agencies to do for some time.
‘Sadly the council leader has been too slow to act with only 84 days to go until Britain is due to leave the EU.’
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said this was not the first meeting to be held by the council to discuss concerns over Brexit and that there had ‘been a lot of work that’s gone on already’.
He added: ‘We’re just trying to pull people together to make sure we’re ready in a way the government doesn’t appear to be.’
Meanwhile, Tory insiders have expressed their annoyance at the fact Portsmouth North MP, Penny Mordaunt, has not yet been included in the invitation to the meeting, which was sent out on Wednesday afternoon.
A Tory source said international development secretary – who has the ear of the prime minister and has sat on all the Cobra meetings discussing Brexit – should have been included.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said he would ‘welcome’ Ms Mordaunt’s attendance to the meeting, the first of which looks likely to be on either February 1 or 8.