A radio presenter has confronted a former Tory health minister over the real sum the government is committing to Public Health England’s [PHE] budget.
LBC Radio’s Nick Ferrari asked Baroness Nicola Blackwood why she was ‘seeking to mislead my listeners’ after she refuted the presenter’s claim that PHE’s budget was £4.51 billion.
The former health minister to Theresa May and Boris Johnson accused Ferrari of referencing an article in The Sun, which she said was incorrect before clarifying PHE’s budget of £300 million.
Ferrari responded: ‘No, this is from the government website, which states ‘The Public Health England annual budget is £4.51 billion.’
‘I’m puzzled that you, as a former health minister, don’t know the budget of Public Health England. You said it was different, but it all comes under that quango.’
Baroness Blackwood said with the rest of the health budget is siphoned off to local health authorities.
Ferrari said: ‘So, this government is wrong, is it? This government website says the annual budget is £4.51 billion… that’s all wrong, is it? Why are you seeking to mislead my listeners?’
Baroness Blackwood responded: ‘I’m just trying to be helpful. £300 million goes to Public Health England, the body. And the rest of it goes to alcohol and drug services, on sexual health services, on services at a local level.’
The Tory peer defended the government’s response of the coronavirus outbreak, and its preparedness programme for a pandemic – known as Operation Cygnus – which she was part of it as health minister.
She said the government had learnt ‘a lot of lessons’ from the current outbreak and was doing an ‘effective’ job in freeing up the capacity of hospital beds and ventilators during the lockdown.
She said: ‘This is a hugely unprecedented requirement had to respond to 223 NHS trusts and over 58,000 health care providers, to dentist, to care workers and all these other people.’
She said the requirement for PPE skyrocketed by 5000%.
Ferrari added: ‘How you can describe this is as being a success. I find it truly incomprehensible. If this is a success Baroness then what would have a disaster looked like?
On their budget, Public Health England said: ‘PHE’s annual budget from government is just shy of £300m illion – which is about half the cost of a district hospital. The £4.5 billion figure is the amount the Treasury allocates to local government for local public health services – not [the] PHE budget.’