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UK Government officially announces National Institute for Health Protection to replace Public Health England

Published on 19/08/20 at 10:46am
Photo by EU2017EE Estonian Presidency - Wiki Commons

The UK Government has officially announced that Public Health England will be replaced by the National Institute for Health Protection.

The government says the move has come due to the coronavirus pandemic, as they want the country to be better prepared for future pandemics. Matt Hancock, the British Health Secretary, told the press: “To give ourselves the best chance of beating this virus once and for all... 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.”

Public Health England was originally formed as part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s health reforms in 2012, and saw its budget consistently cut. In 2015, it received £397.9 million in annual funding while it was only awarded £300 million this year. It has come under increasing scrutiny due to its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and has been blamed for the suspension of community test and trace schemes in March.

While the government has said the new institution will help tackle the current and future pandemics, it is unclear what organisation is going to pick up the other campaigns PHE was working on. In particular, its work on tackling obesity, reducing smoking and tackling inequalities in health. This comes just two weeks after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new campaign to tackle obesity.

The National Institute for Health Protection will be a combination of PHE, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre, with the latter two only being set up during the pandemic.

Critics are labelling the move as a distraction to deflect from the government’s failings in responding to the virus. Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation, told the Guardian: “Setting up and abolishing or merging national agencies like PHE is all too common and frequently demoralising, wasteful and lacking justification.”

Dr Richard Horton, Editor of the Lancet, tweeted: “So. Farewell then, PHE. You stood up for public health against governments that slashed public health budgets over a decade. And now you have to take the blame for one of the worst national responses to Covid-19 in the world. Strange, no?”

Conor Kavanagh

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