Public Health England to be replaced with new National Health Protection body
Public Health England has defended its role in the testing strategy undertaken during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. This comes as it was revealed that the body is to be dismantled and replaced with a pandemic-specific response unit called the National Institute for Health Protection. The Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock is due to announce the merging of the pandemic response work of PHE with the NHS Test and Trace Programme this week. The new organisation’s mission will be to ensure the UK is one of the best-equipped nations to tackle the coronavirus challenge.
PHE has been subject to significant finger-pointing during the crisis, with ministers placing responsibility for ramping up testing on the organisation and adding deaths to the national toll which included individuals dying of causes other than coronavirus months after receiving a positive test result. Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously stated in the media that the early response to the pandemic had been ‘sluggish’ in comments widely understood to be directed at PHE.
In the wake of its axing, PHE has stated that it was the Department of Health that held the responsibility of directing testing strategies at the beginning of the crisis. Duncan Selbie, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “This criticism of PHE’s response to testing is based on a misunderstanding about our role.” Selbie further defended PHE by saying that “Any suggestion that PHE monopolised, centralised and controlled pandemic testing and even stopped others from developing tests or conducting them is not true.” Whitehall is seeing substantial finger-pointing in advance of a public inquiry into the coronavirus response announced by Boris Johnson.