No-deal health plans kept secret

Former health minister Jim Wells
Former health minister Jim Wells
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Pressure is mounting on the Belfast health trust to release its plans to protect patients in the event of a no-deal Brexit, after it refused to do so to prevent causing “alarm”.

Former health minister Jim Wells, the Alliance health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw, and the SDLP health spokesperson Mark H Durkan have each called for the trust to release the contingency plans.

The trust refused to release the information after a request made by the Belfast Telegraph newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, citing the potential for to “impact service delivery and the potential to cause unnecessary confusion and alarm”.

But former Northern Ireland health minister Jim Wells said that response has caused even more alarm than the release of the documents.

“This would have caused even more alarm than if they had simply released it,” the DUP man told the News Letter.

“Going way back about nine years ago, there was an outbreak of Swine Flu in Northern Ieland and the department refused to release information as to what was going on. I challenged them and told them they had to tell people what as going on, which they did.

“It actually stopped a lot of rumours that were going around and it encouraged people to take steps to prevent the spread of the disease.

“That was alarming but it was the right thing to do. I find in these situations, honesty is the best policy. This refusal is causing more alarm than the actual information.”

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said: “I cannot believe that the Belfast Trust is point blank refusing to share with the public the state of no-deal Brexit contingency planning because they believe it would cause alarm. If a no-deal exit threatens health services, the safe supply of medicines or provision of treatment, or workforce stability then service users have a right to know. Refusing to disclose this information will only cause further undue alarm.”

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, speaking to the BBC, said: “I think it’s caused more alarm, and more confusion, this response.

“If we, the public, are to be trusted to take this decision to leave the EU I think we have to be trusted to know what the impact is going to be to our health and social care services. I think we have a right to know what will happen.”