Announcement of new health protection institute poorly timed

By - Integrated Care Journal

The Health and Care Secretary's announcement establishing the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP), which will replace Public Health England, has come under fire.

Whilst Public Health England (PHE) has come under intense scrutiny for its role in the coronavirus response, ministers have been accused of using it as a scapegoat for their failings.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) questioned the appropriateness of timing an announcement on the scrapping of a national public health agency in the midst of a global pandemic.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, asks why PHE was scrapped in the way it was and replaced by NIHP.

Mr Hopson says that while the Secretary of State "was right to point to some of the public health successes achieved since the start of the pandemic,” he wanted to remind the public that “there have been major problems too. ”

Some of the issues include: “lack of a clear testing strategy, insufficient testing capacity for far too long, an excessive focus on meeting a single capacity target on a single day in April, questionable use of statistics, an unacceptable delay in setting up NHS Test and Trace, and the description of a brand new service as ‘world-class’ undermining its credibility from the start. ”

Mr Hopson points out that “the relentless negative briefing campaign against PHE... falls well below the standards the Government has set the NHS. ”

Whilst Mr Hopson argues the scrapping of PHE has been shambolic, Richard Murray, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, goes further outlining why Mr Hancock has failed the public.

Mr Murray states that “Public Health England (PHE) appears to have been found guilty without a trial. It is unclear what problem the Government is hoping to solve by carving up PHE and redistributing its responsibilities. 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. ” 

Mr Murray warns that it "is risky to undertake such a shakeup whilst 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."

Achnowledging that “the proposed changes could bring greater accountability and transparency to England’s track and trace system," Mr Murray reminds the public that “PHE’s role goes far beyond pandemic response and includes, among other things, tackling obesity, reducing health inequalities and improving life expectancy. ”  

Although both Mr Hopson and Mr Murray have welcomed the changes, they both question the timing of the announcement and speculate whether the changes made through the introduction of NIHP will solve the problems encountered by PHE.

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