Health secretary Matt Hancock has launched a new National Institute for Health Protection designed to ‘fight health threats’, which he claims will be ‘world-renowned’.
It is part of the government’s controversial plans to break up Public Health England (PHE), with Tory peer Dido Harding becoming interim executive chairwoman.
The government has faced criticism over the prospect of breaking up the PHE, which was established in 2013 under Conservative health reforms, in the middle of a pandemic.
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Ministers have also been accused of using PHE as a ‘scapegoat’ for other failings in the crisis.
In a speech at the think tank Policy Exchange, Hancock said the new organisation would have a ‘single and relentless mission’ of protecting people from external health threats including pandemics, biological weapons and infectious diseases.
Setting out his plans for a shake-up of the public health system, Hancock said: ‘The changes that I am announcing today are designed entirely to strengthen our response.
He said: ‘We are making the change now because we must do everything we can to fulfil our responsibilities to the public, to strengthen public health in the UK.’
Hancock said that investment in public health would continue but did not say how much the sector would receive.
He added: ‘I am trying to pull off having the clarity of the long-term direction, driving the agenda forwards, including with the vast sums of money that we have put into this area as Government over the last six months and, of course, that will continue.
‘At the same time, of course, everybody is working incredibly hard at their day jobs and so having the leadership pulled together now but having the institutional change happen over the next six months, over the rest of this financial year, will enable us to make the changes carefully, but immediately get on with pulling the new institution together.’
He told journalists he had ‘every confidence’ that the new organisation will be ‘world-renowned’.
‘There’s also the question of why now.
‘One of the lessons I’ve learned from the crisis is that if something is the right thing to do, then putting off the change is usually the wrong thing to do.
‘I hope we have struck a balance between showing exactly where we are going immediately and then having the time to ensure that we build that institution properly.’
The announcement comes after Labour criticised plans to break up PHE in the middle of a pandemic as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘risky’.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said that structural reorganisation is ‘time consuming’ and ‘energy sapping’.
In a series of scathing tweets, Mr Ashworth said the Government was trying to ‘shift the blame’.