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House of Commons Hansard
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27 June 2019
Volume 662
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3. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social and Care on the effect on the NHS of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. [911593]

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Ministers and officials in the Department for Exiting the European Union have regular discussions with their counterparts in the Department of Health and Social Care, who are working closely with industry to ensure that the NHS and patients are prepared for all exit scenarios.

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Before March, the NHS was stockpiling medical supplies, including body bags, medicines and blood. Many people with long-term conditions fear that essential drugs or specialist food supplies such as those for people with PKU—phenylketonuria—will not be available. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ensure that medicines and other medical supplies are consistently available, on time, for people who need them?

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The hon. Lady raises a very important point—one that has, sadly, been subject to quite a lot of misleading scare stories. She will have seen the written statement we published yesterday setting out steps we are taking to ensure the smooth flow of goods, and medicines will be the priority within that. She will be aware that it is not simply an issue of flow, but also of stock and of regulation. The Department of Health, in particular, is doing considerable work on these issues.

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May I remind the Secretary of State that this is not just about medicines, although that is important enough, but also about staff? Is he aware of how many distressed loyal servants of the NHS have now decided that this is a hostile environment in our country and are going home to their own European countries? That is very sad. Will he remind the contenders to be our next Prime Minister that they do not have a majority in the House of Commons and when they get back here they are going to get a short shower of reality on them?

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The hon. Gentleman, like me, cares deeply about the NHS, but it is a fact that there are 700 more doctors working in the NHS today. He shakes his head, but it is a fact. There are 700 more doctors working in the NHS today than at the time of the referendum. It is important that we are welcoming. We recognise the talent, the service and the importance of EU citizens in our NHS. As a former Health Minister, I absolutely agree with him on that. But it is also important that our debate in this place reinforces that positive message and recognises that more doctors have come here, not fewer, since the referendum.

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Over 100 third-sector organisations are supporting my private Member’s Bill calling for an independent evaluation of the effect of Brexit in the health and social care sector. They all agree that the UK simply cannot afford to cut itself off from the labour market on which we have become so dependent and will become increasingly dependent. What assurances can the Secretary of State give to the sector that that will not happen?

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I will not dwell on the specific merits of the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill, but he will be aware that health is a devolved matter, and we are working closely with the Scottish Government in our planning. In terms of immigration, which goes back to the point made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), of course it is important that we retain staff. We are working to do that, and if we look more widely at staff figures, we see that there are 5,200 more EU citizens working in our NHS since the referendum—the numbers are up, not down.