Health Policy

18.08.20

Public Health England set to be replaced by new national institute

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is reportedly set to replace Public Health England with a new national institute as part of a range of measures he is due to announce in a speech on the future of public health as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The new National Institute for Health Protection will purportedly be charged with preventing future outbreaks of infectious diseases and is set to be chaired by Baroness Dido Harding, who has played a key role in the NHS Test and Trace service.

The Government’s decision to axe Public Health England first emerged during the weekend, as the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration continue to look for ways to best manage and overcome both the current coronavirus pandemic and any potential future outbreaks. It was reported by The Sunday Telegraph the new body would be modelled on Germany's Robert Koch Institute.

According to reports emerging in the national media, the new body has been seen as a way to increase ‘much-needed investment’ and would become effective in September, though would not fully complete its transition from Public Health England until Spring 2021.

The apparent decision to axe Public Health England has proven controversial.

Already, vocal calls have been made to ensure this shift focuses on creating thorough, well-planned strategy and supporting both the NHS and local government to improve national health and wellbeing outcomes. A number of key health organisations have stressed the importance of the new agency remaining focused on its work improving public health, free from political influence or scapegoating.

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In response to the creation of the new institute, Nick Ville, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “Our health protection response to the pandemic has not covered itself in glory at times, with the sudden end to community testing for coronavirus in the early stages being one of its key failures.

“However, the rushed transfer of infection surveillance and testing responsibilities for the disease from Public Health England to an entirely new body within a month leaves a lot to be answered, especially as we head towards a possible national resurgence of the disease.

“Clearly, mistakes have been made and lessons must be learned but the health of our nation is too important for corners to be cut. Without further detail, we must not be fooled into believing that the creation of a new quango will lead to the improvements we desperately need to our country’s test and trace strategy as society reopens, as many patient services that had to be paused are resumed, and as we head towards what is expected to be a very demanding winter for the NHS.

“Public Health England, as an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care has always been directly accountable to the Secretary of State and its responsibilities are much wider reaching than planning for the pandemic. Alongside the NHS and local government, it has a crucial role in supporting the health and wellbeing of our nation, from obesity to smoking cessation, physical activity, alcohol and drug dependence, air pollution and antimicrobial resistance. These strategies are an essential component of the NHS Long Term Plan and put simply, without them, the NHS cannot deliver.

“NHS leaders have told us repeatedly that national priorities are best delivered through working closely with local knowledge and expertise.  At a time when there is increased focus on the impact that our lifestyle choices can have on our health, as well as growing concerns around the uptake of our essential immunisation programmes, we need a carefully thought through strategy for the future of health protection and health improvement in England that encompasses both of these national and local elements.

“This must drive what the Government does next – not political distraction or playing the blame game.”

Main Image Credit Erica Dezonne/EMPICS Entertainment

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