A plan to halt blood donations in Channel ports, for eight weeks around the scheduled date of Brexit, has been blocked by the Department of Health.
NHS Blood and Transport (NHSBT) announced that sessions in Dover and Folkestone had been cancelled in the two weeks before March 29 and the six weeks afterwards, citing fears of transport chaos.
But the plan was slapped down within hours by Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s department, which said it did not agree with the proposed course of action.
Concerns have been raised in recent months other the impact on Kent of a no-deal Brexit, with the Government preparing for heavy queues at ports and the Channel Tunnel if customs checks have to be re-introduced.
The NHSBT announcement sparked a furious response, with Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth describing it as a “disastrous consequence of Theresa May’s hopeless mishandling of Brexit”.
Mr Ashworth said it was “utterly shocking” that blood donations should be called off and said it “beggars belief” that the Prime Minister was still resisting Labour demands to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
Dover’s Tory MP Charlie Elphicke criticised the NHS move as “ridiculous and irresponsible”.
He said: “Both the ports of Dover and Calais have said they will keep traffic flowing.
“Why not see what happens first before creating worry completely unnecessarily?”
Mike Stredder, director of blood donation for NHSBT, said that only six sessions were affected out of around 2,700 countrywide in the same period, and the move should have “no effect on blood stocks or on our ability to supply hospitals”.
He said: “We have taken the decision to cancel donation sessions in Dover and Folkestone for a two-week period before and for six weeks after Britain’s exit from the EU.
“This is because in the event of issues at Calais and other freight ports, Operation Stack may be put in place by Highways England and the Kent Police.
“This could lead to significant traffic in Kent and may prevent donation teams from reaching venues in the area or a donation leaving.”
We’re grateful to all life-saving blood donors who make an important contribution
But in a statement issued hours after Mr Stredder’s announcement, the Department of Health and Social Care insisted that donation sessions will continue uninterrupted.
“The department does not agree with this course of action,” a spokesman said. “We’ve discussed this issue with NHSBT and confirmed blood donations will continue as normal.
“We’re grateful to all life-saving blood donors who make an important contribution.”
Mr Elphicke described the department’s response as “a welcome move and the right thing to do”.
He added: “We need to know who authorised this nonsense in the first place.”
But Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, a supporter of the Best for Britain campaign for a second Brexit referendum, said: “This whole sorry saga is a lesson in how unprepared the Government are.
“What are the Department of Health actually going to do, magic away the Brexit tailbacks?
“I’m unsure what has changed in the last few hours apart from the press were alerted. The appointments they cancelled remain cancelled – they’re just trying to mop up a self-made blunder.”
Earlier this month a leaked report suggested delays of as little as 70 seconds per truck at Dover could cause traffic jams which would take six days to clear.
And the Government conducted an exercise to trial the use of Manston airfield in Kent as a holding centre for trucks queuing to reach Dover in the event of disruption.
However, Calais boss Jean-Marc Puissesseau said the port has been preparing for Brexit for a year and will be ready to cope when the UK leaves the EU on March 29, whether there is a deal or not.