Experts have warned that Public Health England (PHE) has suffered from years of underfunding, following reports that the agency is set to be scrapped.
The Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday (16 August) that the health secretary, Matt Hancock will announce later this week that PHE will be replaced with a new body.
PHE was created in 2013 organisations as part of the Lansley reforms, when public health was transferred from the NHS to local government.
In response to the news, the chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said years of underfunding for Public Health England, and public health work more widely, has ‘resulted in the UK not being properly prepared to tackle a pandemic such as COVID-19’.
‘For example, the local authority public health grant has been cut by 25% in real terms over the last five years,’ added Mr Hopson.
‘Public Health England has always had a wide range of different roles including protecting the nation from public health hazards, preparing for and responding to public health emergencies, reducing health inequalities, screening and immunisation programmes and actions to address the wider determinants of health such as increasing exercise and reducing smoking and sugar in foods,’ he added.
‘There were many who argued that this scope could be too wide – COVID-19 looks to have proved them right. Ensuring public health functions are sufficiently resourced to tackle this broad spectrum of activity in the future is essential.’
He added that Public Health England has also always been an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care, which gives ministers direct control of its activities.
‘So, whilst it might be convenient to seek to blame PHE’s leadership team, it is important that the government reflect on its responsibilities as well.
‘Fourth, the government’s strategy in the early stages of the pandemic in key areas of PHE’s responsibility such as testing, was flawed and confusing. Ministers, not PHE officials, were driving that strategy, directing the response and allocating resource accordingly.
‘Fifth, the pandemic has shown that we have the balance between national and local level activity wrong here. Creating a new organisation provides a much-needed opportunity to devolve more leadership, more control and more resource to local level.’
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