Future of England's public health set to be revealed in announcement by Matt Hancock

The future of public health in England is set to be announced today – Tuesday, August 18 – by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 8:59 am
Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Mr Hancock is due to deliver a speech at the think tank Policy Exchange titled The Future of Public Health.

The Government has faced criticism over the prospect of breaking up the health body in the middle of a pandemic.

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Ministers have also been accused of using PHE as a “scapegoat” for other failings in the crisis.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said he was “sorry beyond words” the future of the body was briefed to the media before his staff were told.

A story placed with The Sunday Telegraph suggests that the Covid-19 response work of PHE is to be merged with NHS Test and Trace to form a new body designed specifically to deal with pandemics.

Other aspects of its operations, such as tackling obesity, could be handed over to councils and family doctors, the newspaper said.

Mr Selbie said that no organisation could get “everything right” and he praised staff for their efforts during the pandemic.

The note to staff, seen by the Health Service Journal, states: “The Prime Minister and Secretary of State wish to recreate an organisation with a sole focus on health protection and to bring together our health protection services with the budgets and people of the NHS test-and-trace programme to create a new national institute for health protection.”

He added: “Any organisation that says it got everything right is wrong and no public health body enters a pandemic expecting to look the same as a consequence.

“However, no one remotely close to our work of the past eight years, and since January on the pandemic would agree with the headlines that this change reflects ‘pandemic failure’ on our part.

“No public body has done more to protect the health of the people than PHE nor has more reason to be proud of its contribution.”

Public Health England was established in 2013, under reforms driven by former health secretary Lord Lansley.

Its aim is to “protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities”.

The organisation has a wide range of responsibilities ranging from protecting the nation from public health hazards, preparing for and responding to public health emergencies, supporting local organisations to carry out screening and immunisation programmes, reducing health inequalities, and encouraging the public to lead healthier lifestyles.

Responding to reports that PHE is to be replaced, a No 10 spokesman said on Monday, August 17: “We have always said we must learn the right lessons from the crisis and act to ensure Government structures are fit to cope.

“But I would make the point that PHE have played an integral role in our response to this unprecedented pandemic, working on important issues such as detection, surveillance, contact tracing and testing.”

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