Care sector urged to plan for worst as no-deal looms

Warning “thousands” of older and vulnerable people could suffer most if no Brexit agreement reached

Sunday 11th August 2019

Social care providers across the UK are being urged to plan for the worst-case scenario following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to leave the EU with or without a deal on October 31st.

Potential impacts presented to government by the UK Home Care Association range from medication shortages all the way to ‘civil unrest / aggression towards non-British nationals’.

A spokesman for the organisation emphasised this was unlikely but said it was prudent for bosses to plan for every eventuality.

Preparations for leaving Europe without a withdrawal agreement have been intensifying since Boris Johnson succeeded Theresa May last month.

Shortages of medical equipment, electricity, gas, fuel and food caused by border disruption are among the potential issues, as well as civil unrest and aggression towards non-British care staff.

Sources stressed these are the worst possible outcomes – not a prediction.

A UK Home Care Association spokesman tells healthandcare.scot: “Contingency planning is part of running a responsible organisation. The increasing likelihood of an exit from the European Union without a deal in October should encourage social care providers to review their existing contingency plans to ensure they cover possible eventualities. 

“This sort of planning also means contemplating worst case scenarios – things which are unlikely to happen, but would have a significant impact on business continuity if they did.”

But Scottish Care, which represents the independent care sector north of the border, says it “cannot guarantee” care for vulnerable people will not be disrupted.

Chief executive Dr Donald Macaskill warns “thousands of older and vulnerable citizens will suffer the most” in the event of a no-deal.

He said: “At the moment we seem to be hurtling downhill in a runaway train to crash out of Europe. Our citizens need to know that this will have a dramatic effect on social care services.

“We are doing what we can to be ready for the chaos but we can only do so much. The behaviour of the UK Government means we cannot guarantee that care homes and home care services will be able to continue to deliver the quality and life critical services they do every day.”

Scottish Care's concerns include food shortages, travel disruption and fears supply chain breakdowns could stop “essential” medicines and products getting to people.

“People need to wake up and not be deluded by false optimism and the belief if we just shut our eyes and count to ten everything will be alright. It will not be if we crash out of Europe,” Dr Macaskill added.

In a statement, the UK Department for Health & Social Care said it was working with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to cushion the impact of a no-deal.

It said: “Contingency plans are in place to ensure that the potential impacts of exiting the EU on vulnerable people using care services are mitigated as far as possible and our plans should ensure the supply of medicines and medical products to the entire UK and its crown dependencies remains uninterrupted.”

Aside from the initial shock of leaving without a deal, many worry the long-term effects of ending of free movement for EU nationals could be disastrous in a sector that already struggles to attract and retain enough staff.

More than 5% of Scotland’s social care workers – just under 10,000 people – hail from the EU.

A spokesman for the UK Home Care Association said: “The social care sector – particularly state-funded care – is unlikely to be able to fill demand without special arrangements to recruit front-line social care workers from the EU in the short and medium term.” 

The group is calling for “decisive” changes to future immigration policy.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is again calling on the UK Government to rule out no-deal.

A spokesperson said: “We are working with the UK Government and a wide range of local and national organisations to support contingency planning in the health and social care sector in response to the possibility of a ‘no-deal’ EU exit but we cannot mitigate all the risks EU exit presents.”

“Uncertainty around a ‘no-deal’ Brexit continues to pose a significant threat to the health and social care sector, both in terms of the supply of medicines and critical goods and the impact which the loss of freedom of movement will have on the recruitment and retention of staff.”