Matt Hancock plans to scrap Public Health England over coronavirus response

PUBLISHED: 08:30 16 August 2020 | UPDATED: 12:14 16 August 2020

Health secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons; Parliamentlive

Health secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons; Parliamentlive

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Health secretary Matt Hancock is expected to scrap Public Health England (PHE) and replace it with a new body to deal with a pandemic.

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An announcement is expect this week from Hancock who is anticipated to saythe pandemic response work of PHE will be merged with NHS Test and Trace, The Sunday Telegraph reports.

According to the paper, the new body will be called the Institute for Health Protection and will become “effective” next month, although it will take until next spring to complete.

The Tory peer and former TalkTalk telecoms boss Dido Harding, who currently heads Test and Trace, is being tipped to lead the organisation, the paper said.

It is expected she will report both to ministers at the Department of Health and Social Care, and to Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, giving ministers direct control over the body.

The paper quoted a senior minister as saying: “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.”

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The reported move follows repeated reports over recent months that ministers have been unhappy and frustrated with PHE’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

That includes its decision to count all deaths from Covid-19, rather than just those within the first 28 days of contracting the virus, as in Scotland.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman 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.”

The model for the new institute is the Robert Koch Institute in Germany which had a central role in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic by publishing daily situation reports that log new outbreaks, testing capacity and the current burden on the health system.

In other news, PHE’s work on tackling obesity will fall on to local councils and family doctors.

PHE was originally set up in 2013 by for health secretary Jeremy Hunt as a result of an NHS shake-up organised by his predecessor Andrew Lansley.

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