Boss ‘sorry beyond words’ after details leaked on Public Health England’s future

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The head of Public Health England (PHE) apologized to staff who news of the organization’s demise has been leaked.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said he was “beyond words sorry” that the future of the organization had been told by the media before its staff were told.

A story in The Sunday Telegraph suggested that PHE’s Covid-19 response work needed 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 left to councils and family doctors, the newspaper said.


  • Government criticized for plans to ‘chop up’ Public Health England

(PA graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

According to the Sunday Telegraph, a new institute for health protection will become “effective” from next month, although the merger will take until next spring to complete.

Mr Selbie said no organization can ‘do it all right’ and praised staff for their efforts during the pandemic.

The staff memo, viewed by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), said, “I am sorry beyond words for the way decisions about our future were communicated to the media before I had a chance to. explain them.

“The Prime Minister and Secretary of State want to recreate an organization focused solely on health protection and bring our health protection services together with the budgets and people of the NHS testing and tracing program to create a new national institute of health. protection.

“The goal is to strengthen our unique scientific capacity and global expertise in health protection with much needed new investments.

“The future arrangements for delivering everything we do for the country, including improving health and our business services, will be worked out over the coming weeks and months and will, of course, include a formal consultation and the appropriate HR processes to ensure this is managed. in a transparent and fair manner.

No public body has done more to protect the health of the population than SPE and has more reason to be proud of its contribution

“Any organization that claims to have done everything right is bogus and no public health organization goes into a pandemic expecting to look the same as a result.

“However, no one remote from 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.

“It is certainly not what the Secretary of State believes or says in public or in private.

“No public body has done more to protect the health of the population than SPE and has no more reason to be proud of its contribution.

“Also on improving health over the years on cancer, tobacco, obesity and air quality among others, and most importantly to support our colleagues in local government, the NHS and our international work on behalf of the United Kingdom.

(PA graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

It comes as the government faced further criticism of reports that he is considering phasing out PHE.

The Unite union said that PHE is being used as a ‘type of drop’ for the Covid-19 government failures, while the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said that ‘the scapegoat PES is unfair and potentially dangerous “.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “We believe that PES has played an important role in our response to this pandemic and has worked on important issues such as detection, surveillance, contact tracing and testing, and we will continue to work closely with them. ”

Asked whether the government has sought advice from outside consultants on whether to shut down Public Health England, he added: “If you look at the roadmap and the wording, what we’re saying about the structures, we have been clear that we must learn the right lessons from the crisis and act now to ensure that structures are fit to deal with future epidemics.

Responding to reports that Public Health England needed to be replaced, Spokesman No.10 said: ‘We have always said we need to learn the right lessons from the crisis and act to ensure that government structures are fit to do so. face.

“But I would like to stress that PES have played a vital role in our response to this unprecedented pandemic, working on important issues such as detection, surveillance, contact tracing and testing.”

It sounds like a crass attempt to pass the blame

On Tuesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock will deliver a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank titled The Future of Public Health.

Meanwhile, critics said if ministers were not happy with PHE’s performance, they had only themselves to blame as it is directly under ministerial control.

Unite’s National Health Officer Jackie Williams said: “It is clear that Public Health England and its dedicated staff are aligned to be the guy to fall for the continual scuffles from Boris Johnson and his ministers since the appearance. coronavirus at the start of the year.

“The catalog of errors ranges from the delay to be locked in March to the failure to set up a ‘global’ testing and traceability system in June.

“In their desperation to find someone or an organization to blame for their own failures, Boris Johnson and Health and Social Affairs Secretary Matt Hancock are lining up PHE and his staff to be the downfall guy.

Karen Middleton, Chief Executive Officer of CSP, said: “There have clearly been failures in handling the Covid pandemic, but PHE’s scapegoat is unfair and potentially dangerous.

“A number of people and organizations are responsible for managing the pandemic, not just PES.

“It sounds like a crass attempt to pass the blame. “

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, representing the NHS trusts, said on Sunday that “years of underfunding” for PES and public health more generally have left the country ill-prepared for a pandemic.

He said that unlike other health organizations such as NHS England, PHE, which replaced the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in 2013 as part of the Tories’ NHS reorganization, is an executive agency of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.

“It gives ministers direct control over its activities,” he said.

“So, while it may be practical to seek to blame the PHE management team, it is important that the government also reflects on its responsibilities.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Affairs said: ‘Public Health England has played a vital role in our national response to this unprecedented global pandemic.

“We have always been clear that we need to learn the right lessons from this crisis to ensure that we are in the strongest possible position, both as we continue to fight Covid-19 and to respond to any future threat to public health. “

Christina Marriott, Executive Director of the Royal Society of Public Health, said: “We question the timing of the announcement to end our national public health agency amid a global pandemic and before the onset of any public inquiry, let alone reported.

“We recognize that there have been serious challenges in terms of responding to Covid-19, including the timing of the lockdown, the continued ineffectiveness of Tier 2 Track and Trace, and the postcode-level data that was not previously not available to directors of public health. .

“Several lessons must be learned before solutions can be put in place before winter. To do otherwise risks causing avoidable mistakes in subsequent waves of the pandemic that will only further harm public health.

“Any successor organizations will either stand or fall depending on whether a series of critical issues are resolved.”

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