Replacing PHE will not solve COVID-19 issues, says CIEH

17 August 2020, Ross Matthewman

CIEH has warned that simply scrapping Public Health England (PHE) will not solve all of the issues facing the Government in combatting COVID-19.

Recent reports in the media have suggested that the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, will soon announce the replacement of PHE with a unit focussed solely on pandemics. It has been reported that the Government is frustrated with PHE’s response and management of the COVID-19 pandemic to date.

Debbie Wood, Executive Director of Membership and External Affairs at CIEH, said:

“Public Health England’s role extends beyond pandemics. They have a wider role in protecting and improving the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reducing health inequalities. Simply scrapping PHE and replacing it with a new unit is not a magic wand that will solve all of the issues the country has faced in dealing with COVID-19.

Focussing on sweeping organisational change when we are still in the middle of a pandemic is questionable, and we would urge the UK Government to instead put its resources into addressing the situation on the ground. Test and trace needs improving, and local authorities and public health teams need better support.

A mistake frequently made throughout this pandemic has been to follow an overly centralised approach, instead of utilising localised skills and knowledge already held within environmental and public health teams. The UK Government has shown signs that it is beginning to understand this.

Alongside PHE, the UK Government has had a key role to play in planning for and managing this pandemic, and we urge them to be clear about their own role and responsibilities going forward. We would not want to see the possible replacement of PHE distract from this.”

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