Public Health England To Be Axed- Is This The Right Move?

Zoya Gulshin

With recent news announcing the termination of Public Health England (PHE), many have been left wondering if doing so in the middle of a pandemic is the correct idea.  

Founded in 2013, PHE aims to protect the health and wellbeing of our nation as well as improving the health inequalities that exist within communities.

The organisation achieves this by providing evidence-based guidance to various organisations – this includes the government, local governments, the NHS and the public etc.

PHE are equipped to prepare for and respond to public health emergencies and hazards, and place emphasis on protecting the nation.

First and foremost, it is important to note that PHE is not entirely being axed

The role of PHE during this pandemic has been crucial. They have helped to develop a test to detect the presence of COVID-19 and have been collecting the data that the public have been seeing and reading every single day on the media.

So why is it that this vital body has been axed?

Well first and foremost, it is important to note that PHE is not entirely being axed. What’s actually happening is that PHE is essentially being merged to create a new service – the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP). PHE will be joining forces with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and the NHS Test and Trace facilities.

Back in March, the tracing system implemented by PHE became overwhelmed due to under-resourcing. PHE failed to outsource their testing services which would have helped to increase capacity. Had they outsourced their services to university labs or the private sector, we would not have experienced a shortage.

Health experts argue that this change will only distract the staff of PHE, especially with regards to the organisational changes. Many are predicting a second wave of the virus, so is now really the best time to mix things up?

What about the jobs of those who work at PHE? The focus of NIHP is on pandemics and infectious diseases. This specific programme of the PHE employs just under 2,700 people, so it seems their jobs are safe.

The future for the 800 people who work on health improvement programmes for PHE remains uncertain, despite Matt Hanckcock’s claims that both budget and employment will be increasing.

Health experts and the public in general are questioning the person behind NIHP – Dido Harding.

Although greatly educated (a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree from Oxford, as well as a Business degree from Harvard), her lack of experience in health care services makes her an unusual candidate. Her previous job was as chief executive of TalkTalk – yes, the telecom company.

Harding was not appointed for this role during an open selection process, quite the opposite in fact- she was given the role behind closed doors

Harding is married to John Penrose – an MP who believes the NHS should be scrapped in favour of a health insurance system and sits on the advisory board infamously known as 1828. This board called for the axing of PHE and it seems they have been successful.

Harding was not appointed for this role during an open selection process, quite the opposite in fact – she was given the role behind closed doors. This leaves us wondering about the factors of her selection.

Unlike the evidence-based guidance given by PHE, advice given by the NIHP will undoubtedly be scrutinised due to the potential political interests.

Despite the inconvenient timing and a questionable leader of the new organisation, the main focus for the NIHP is to protect and control against pandemics and infectious diseases, which is undeniably vital right now. Only time will tell just how successful this change has been.

Zoya Gulshin 

Featured image courtesy of  Number 10 via Flickr. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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