Matt Hancock has confirmed that Public Health England (PHE) is to be replaced with a new organisation, prompting claims it has been ‘found guilty without a trial’.
Speaking today (18 August), the health secretary said it would be scrapped and replaced with the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).
Mr Hancock said the new organisation it will bring together Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace, as well as the analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) under a single leadership team.
Baroness Dido Harding will be the interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, while the outgoing PHE chief executive, Duncan Selbie will be taking on a role as a senior advisor to the Department of Health and Social Care on global and public health.
PHE was created in 2013 when public health was transferred from the NHS to local government.
The changes were first mentioned last weekend in a Sunday Telegraph article, which led to criticism that ministers are trying to blame PHE for failures during the pandemic.
‘The National Institute for Health Protection will bring together the expertise of PHE with the enormous response capabilities of NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre to put us in the best possible position for the next stage of the fight against COVID-19 and for the long term,’ said Mr Hancock.
‘I want to thank all my brilliant colleagues at Public Health England, the NHS, the Joint Biosecurity Centre, local directors of public health and their teams, contact tracers, diagnostics experts, epidemiologists, infection control teams, and every single person who has contributed to the national effort to get this deadly pandemic under control over the last 8 months.
‘I would like to personally thank Duncan Selbie for his leadership of PHE bringing together 70 different agencies, pursuing ground-breaking work on tackling obesity, promoting health improvement and leading PHE, in what has been an exceptionally challenging time. I am looking forward to continuing working with him as a leading figure in the global, public health agenda.’
Commenting on the announcement, the chief executive of the King’s Fund, Richard Murray said PHE ‘appears to have been found guilty without a trial’.
‘Undoubtedly, there are questions to be answered about England’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, but the middle of a pandemic is not the time to dismantle England’s public health agency,’ said Mr Murray.
‘History is littered with reorganisations of the health system that are costly, time consuming and demoralising for staff. It is risky to undertake such a shake up while the nation is still grappling with Covid-19, ahead of an anticipated winter spike in demand for health services and with the looming threat of a second wave of the virus.’
Labour’s shadow public health minister, Alex Norris, added: ‘The structural reorganisation that Matt Hancock has announced today is a desperate attempt to shift the blame after years of cutting public health budgets when the real shift we need is towards an effective local test and trace system that delivers mass testing and case finding.
‘Matt Hancock himself was responsible for Public Health England and in setting PHE’s priorities last year – ministers didn’t even mention preparing for a pandemic.’
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