News | Published August 17 2020

Public Health England to be scrapped

Health secretary Matt Hancock will announce this week that Public Health England is to be replaced by a new body, the Sunday Telegraph reports.

The new agency will be modelled on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute which has overseen the response to Covid-19 there. The new body will be specifically responsible for protecting the UK from future pandemic situations.

The move is believed to come from ministers’ dissatisfaction at the way Public Health England has responded to the Covid-19 crisis.

In August, the government introduced a new method for calculating daily Covid-19 deaths in England, after it had emerged that people who had tested positive months earlier, recovered and then died of different causes were being included as virus-related deaths in Public Health England’s statistics.

The government has not commented on the report, but a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Public Health England have played an integral role in our national response to this unprecedented global pandemic.

“We have always been clear that we must learn the right lessons from this crisis to ensure that we are in the strongest possible position, both as we continue to deal with Covid-19 and to respond to any future public health threat.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson said that the government needed to learn lessons from the country’s response to the pandemic and that the whole strategy could have been done “differently”.

According to the report, Hancock will look to merge the NHS Test and Trace scheme with Public Health England’s response strategy.

The BBC claims that a leaked document written by Public Health England chief Duncan Selbie stated that a new national institute in charge of health protection would be established with the purpose of boosting health expertise with “much needed new investment”.

The document said that the new body, which may be named the National Institute for Health Protection, would become “effective” as early as September, but it would not be fully established until spring next year.

Public Health England, which today employs roughly 5,500 people, was first established by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2013 as part of a shake-up in the NHS in England. Its duties were to prepare and respond to health emergencies such as pandemic situations, with its workforce mostly comprised of scientists, researchers and public health experts.

John Ashton, a former regional director of public health in the north west of England, took aim at the government’s plans to replace Public Health England, despite acknowledging that the organisation had overseen a “bad pandemic”.

Ashton told the BBC: “You don't deal with the problem of an over-centralised, dysfunctional organisation by creating another over-centralised organisation which is what is being proposed.

“You don't change horses mid-stream, this pandemic has still got a long way to run.”

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
August 17 2020

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