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Public Health England to be Replaced by New Body 

Public Health England to be Replaced by New Body 
18 August 2020
 

After being scrutinised for its response to COVID-19, Public Health England will be replaced by the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).

The institute will be led by Baroness Dido Harding, who runs the NHS Test and Trace scheme. The National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) is said to be modelled on Germany's Robert Koch Institute.

Supporting Baroness Harding in her role will be Michael Brodie, who has been appointed Interim Chief Executive Officer of PHE. Michael is currently CEO of the NHS Business Services Authority.

Duncan Selbie, the outgoing PHE Chief Executive, will be taking on a role as a senior advisor to the Department of Health and Social Care on global and public health.

 

PHE Faced Repeated Criticism

 

Public Health England (PHE) has faced repeated criticism over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with Boris Johnson calling some parts of the government response to COVID-19 as “sluggish” in a speech back in July. It is thought that Johnson was rereferring to PHE in this comment.

The NIHP will unite the Test and Trace scheme and the Joint Biosecurity Centre. Health Secretary Matt Hancock commented that the institute would have a "single and relentless mission" of protecting people from external health threats:

"To give ourselves the best chance of beating this virus once and for all - and of spotting and being ready to respond to other health threats, now and in the future, we are creating a brand new organisation to provide a new approach to public health protection and resilience.

"My single biggest fear is a novel flu, or another major health alert, hitting us right now in the middle of this battle against coronavirus.

"Even once this crisis has passed - and it will pass - we need a disease control infrastructure that gives us the permanent, standing capacity to respond as a nation and the ability to scale up at pace."

According a press statement, in order to minimise disruption, the organisation will be formalised and operating from spring 2021.

 

"I could not be any prouder of what PHE has achieved since 2013 in protecting the country from infectious diseases and environmental hazards and in improving the health of the people from reduced smoking rates to tackling poor air quality and obesity and much else. PHE’s work on the pandemic in the early stages and since stands testament to the professionalism and unremitting hard work of my colleagues and bought precious time for the NHS and government to prepare."

–Duncan Selbie

Outgoing Chief Executive, PHE

Will Current Health Advice Change in Light of This?

 

The remit of NIHP is to protect the country for external health threats and provide “a new approach to public health protection and resilience”, perhaps suggesting that additional changes may follow now that the institute has been established.

PHE has been accused of statistical flaws in the way COVID-19 deaths are reported. Some considered their reporting as exaggerating the death toll, with people being counted as victims of the virus even if they die of any cause after testing positive for COVID-19. Therefore a change in the manner of reporting may be expected in the coming months.

Some commentators have accused ministers of using PHE as a scapegoat, to deflect from the government’s own handling of the pandemic. Prof Richard Tedder, Visiting Professor in medical virology at Imperial College London,  told the BBC that he defends PHE as an "assembly of some of the wisest and most committed microbiologists and epidemiologists you could hope for anywhere".

Picture: A photograph of some disposable face masks

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 18 August 2020

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