Tory Matt Hancock has confirmed Public Health England will be scrapped, and the change has now started.
The Health Secretary announced the drastic changes with immediate effect despite fury at him for doing so in the midst of a pandemic, and he stated there will be more private sector partnership in future as he sets up the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).
Public Health England (PHE), which was responsible for essential coronavirus testing and research will have its pandemic work merged with that of the much-criticised NHS Test and Trace programme.
The new NIHP will oversee both, led by Tory peer and David Cameron’s pal Dido Harding. In the meantime, PHE’s work on obesity, addiction and other essential public health problems will be given over to councils, who’ve had their public health budgets cut, and across the NHS, including GPs and pharmacies.
But Matt Hancock risks new rage after acknowledging there’s not yet a plan for who will oversee the new public health work. Instead, he stated he’ll consult widely with more news in the coming weeks.
The new NIHP will report directly to ministers and support the clinical leadership of the Chief Medical Officers, and Matt Hancock told the think tank Policy Exchange that it’s conceived amid crisis but it will help maintain vigilance for years to come.
PHE has long been scrutinised by figures in No 10 for scaling back community testing in March, over counting coronavirus mortality by including anyone who died at any time following diagnosis.
But ministers have also been accused of using PHE as a scapegoat for other shortcomings in the crisis.
Matt Hancock gave no date for the merger to be complete but announced it would start today, and that the new Institute would be formalised and running from spring 2021.
PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie will be supporting the transition but seems to have been dismissed from his position, but Matt Hancock said Michael Brodie, PHE’s former Finance Commercial Director will step up as the interim chief executive.
Matt Hancock added that from today, PHE, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and NHS Test and Trace will run under a single leadership, reporting to Baroness Dido Harding, who will establish the NIHP and undertake the global search for its future leadership.
The Health Secretary’s decision to scrap Public Health England has been branded as reckless and careless.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth tweeted that last year ministers outlined PHE’s priorities, but they didn’t consider planning for a pandemic, and a structural reorganisation mid pandemic is time-consuming, energy-sapping, it’s also unsafe and certainly irresponsible.
Richard Murray, chief executive of the health think tank, The Kings Fund, reprimanded Matt Hancock’s decision to break up Public Health England (PHE), and he said that Public Health England seems to have been found guilty without a trial.
And that it was unclear what problems the government are expecting to solve by carving up PHE and redistributing its responsibilities, and unquestionably, there are questions to be acknowledged about England’s administration of the COVID 19 crisis, and that the middle of a pandemic isn’t the time to dismantle England’s public health agency.
Colin Hutchinson, a retired surgeon who leads the Doctors for the NHS campaign group, said it slaps dogma in the face, rather than sound management, and a major restructuring of deckchairs isn’t the priority here when we know there’s still so many icebergs about.
Now is precisely the time we need public health strategies to take greater prominence in the United Kingdom, and PHE’s remit is to protect the nation’s well-being and reduce health inequalities.
And one would have expected the remit and purposes of the PHE to be expanding with a concurrent growth in funds, instead, the government wants to destroy the agency.
Matt Hancock said the new Institute will have a singular and ruthless purpose, shielding people from outside threats to this country’s help which includes biological weapons, pandemics, and infectious diseases of all kinds.
He said it would combine world-class expertise and scientific support, but in a move that will infuriate many on the left, he seemed to boast there will be more private sector involvement in the new body.
Challenged by drug giant Pfizer how the private sector could get involved, Matt Hancock answered that the truth was, we couldn’t have done it without the private sector, and that they couldn’t have expended testing in the way that they did, and that they couldn’t have expanded contact tracing in the way that they did.
Matt Hancock acknowledged that the United Kingdom went into the pandemic without the ability to deal with it and that they were making the transition now because they wanted to do everything they could to fulfil their responsibilities to the public, and to strengthen public health in the United Kingdom.
Baroness Harding, the head of the new body, was elected in May to lead England’s contact tracing programme but her reputation is mired in controversy, and since then, the programme has encountered questions about performance and value for money.
The peer was put in the House of Lords by her university buddy David Cameron in 2014, and while she’s the chair of NHS Improvement, Baroness Harding has also held senior positions at Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
And she was chief executive of TalkTalk when it was fined £4000,000 for security failings which led to 157,000 customers personal data being stolen.
Her latest position as chief of the NHS Test and Trace, which was launched in May, has also been mired in controversy.
The service, essentially outsourced to Serco and Sitel, scaled back its national operations and handed more authority to local councils after failing to reach more than a quarter of COVID 19 sufferers close contacts.
And plans to launch a companion app was pushed back by months after it didn’t work and had to start again from scratch.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock maintained the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) will sustain a level of independence in order for ministers to get unbiased advice.
Matt Hancock said that he definitely wanted to give the best possible advice that was objective and given without hesitation or favour and as open to external challenge as possible.
But Jonathan McShane, chair of the Terrence Higgins Trust said that at the same time, you need to operationally be able to come together and work seamlessly together and that if you formalise independence too much you could cause friction in that part of the relationship which gets in the way of response.
And with exemplary spirit and honesty, the Government is passing the buck to the NHS, and what a great idea it is to make drastic changes in the midst of a pandemic, and I’m shocked that Boris Johnson hasn’t remained in Downing Street to ensure this important move takes place smoothly.
Where is he hiding now? Perhaps he’s rented a cabin on the bank of the Loch Ness. No doubt the monster would love to sink its teeth into his juicy behind.
First, the Government gets this assignment of NHS money into the private sector by dumping the hard problem of testing and tracking onto councils. Perhaps a similar approach will be used in the near future to put more of the NHS into private companies hands.
And they will probably use companies like Atos, Maximus, Capita and Serco, and watch out for all the mash-up that will come from this mess. What a great way to hide all the ineptitude and statistic manipulating.
And I dare say, in a short while, when the argument is done and dusted, Boris will arrive on the battleground to bayonet the wounded. And now a public body is to be discarded to make way for a private company part of the way through a global pandemic and led by a person responsible for the Track and Trace disaster.
You just couldn’t make this up if you tried, and yet dimwits still bleat on about how amazing the Tories are.