Coronavirus: Matt Hancock to scrap Public Health England and set up new organisation for pandemic, reports say

New institute set to be ‘effective’ next month ahead of potential second wave

Conrad Duncan
Sunday 16 August 2020 14:43 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

Public Health England is to be scrapped and replaced by a new organisation set up to deal with a pandemic, according to reports.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is expected to announce this week that the pandemic response work of PHE will be merged with the NHS Test and Trace programme.

The new body will be called the Institute for Health Protection, according to The Sunday Telegraph, and will be modelled on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute. It will become “effective” next month, although the change will be completed in spring.

It added that Baroness Dido Harding, the Conservative peer and former TalkTalk telecoms boss who currently runs NHS Test and Trace, was being tipped to lead the organisation, despite criticism over the effectiveness of the UK’s contact tracing system in recent weeks.

“We want to bring together the science and the scale in one new body so we can do all we can to stop a second coronavirus spike this autumn,” a senior minister said, according to The Telegraph.

“The National Institute for Health Protection’s goal will be simple: to ensure that Britain is one of the best equipped countries in the world to fight the pandemic.”

A report in The Times on Saturday also said that a merger of the public health body with NHS Test and Trace was under consideration.

The apparent move comes after weeks of criticism of PHE from senior Tories, who have urged Boris Johnson to scrap the organisation.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative Party leader, said in July he would “abolish PHE tomorrow” if he were prime minister and claimed the agency was guilty of “arrogance laced with incompetence”.

During a speech in late June, Mr Johnson also suggested there was a need to reform parts of the government which responded “sluggishly” to the emergence of the pandemic.

Sir Iain has apparently welcomed the news and said: “The one thing consistent about Public Health England is that almost everything it has touched has failed.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Public Health England have played an integral role in our national response to this unprecedented global pandemic.

“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.”

Additional reporting by PA

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