Baroness Harding appointed interim head of Public Health England’s replacement body
England’s NHS Test and Trace chief, Baroness Dido Harding, has been appointed interim head of the new Health Protection Institute which will be replacing Public Health England.
The new institute becomes effective on Tuesday and will see Public Health England’s pandemic response work merged with Test and Trace.
Labour shadow health minister Justin Madders was critical of the decision to appoint Baroness Harding as head of the new agency, saying that there had been “no transparency or accountability” in the move, following her overseeing of the Test and Trace system which has had its own critics.
Public Health England has come under fire for the way it has handled the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly its decision to halt test and trace operations which were underway in March.
The BBC reported that the aim of the new agency would be to boost expertise with “much needed new investment”, according to a leaked document.
The move to scrap Public Health England does have its doubters. The Royal Society for Public Health has said that the decision to make such a change mid-pandemic raises questions.
The society’s chief executive Christina Marriott said: "We recognise that there have been some serious challenges in terms of our response to Covid-19, including the timing of the lockdown, the ongoing ineffectiveness of Tier 2 Track and Trace and postcode-level data previously not being available to directors of public health."
Marriott added that “multiple lessons” had to be learned from the first few months of the crisis before “solutions can be in place in advance of the winter” to avoid “mistakes in subsequent waves of the pandemic”.
Professor Richard Tedder, a visiting professor at Imperial College London, called Public Health England an “assembly of some of the wisest and most committed microbiologists and epidemiologists” and criticised “persistent meddling from on-high”.
Professor Tedder added that the plans to merge Public Health England’s workforce with the Test and Trace scheme were “misplaced” and would come at a detriment to the agency’s expertise.