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Public Health England to be axed over coronavirus response

Report from The Sunday Telegraph details plans to replace agency

Public Health England (PHE), part of the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), is set to be replaced with a new organisation, according to a report from The Sunday Telegraph.

The decision comes after criticism over how the agency handled the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, in particular its handling of community testing and tracing and its methods of counting coronavirus-related deaths.

In March, the government paused community coronavirus testing and tracing, a move that has since been widely criticised by health experts and scientific advisers.

According to the report, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is set to announce a new government body this week to replace PHE, which will be closely modelled on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, a government agency responsible for disease control and prevention.

Hancock is expected to merge the NHS Test and Trace scheme with PHE’s pandemic response duties. PHE will retain responsibility for other health prevention issues, including anti-obesity initiatives.

"Public Health England has played an integral role in our national response to this unprecedented global pandemic,” said a DHSC spokesperson.

"We have always been clear that we must learn the right lessons from this crisis to ensure that we are in the strongest possible position, both as we continue to deal with COVID-19 and to respond to any future public health threat,” the DHSC spokesperson added.

The new body could be called the Institute for Health Protection and is set to become effective as early as September, although the change will not be fully completed until next spring. Baroness Harding, the current head of the NHS Test and Trace scheme and NHS Improvement, is tipped to head the new institute.

Public health experts and senior doctors in the UK have defended PHE and accused government ministers of scapegoating the agency for its own failings.

“Unlike other health bodies such as NHS England, NHS Improvement and the Care Quality Commission, Public Health England has always been an executive agency of the DHSC,” said Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers

“This gives Ministers direct control of its activities. So while it might be convenient to seek to blame PHE’s leadership team, it is important that the Government reflects on its responsibilities as well,” he added.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

17th August 2020

From: Healthcare

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