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COVID-19: PHE to be scrapped in pandemic response, reports say

Public Health England (PHE) will be scrapped and replaced by a pandemic-specific body known as the National Institute for Health Protection, according to The Telegraph newspaper.

The Telegraph reported on Saturday (August 15) that health secretary Matt Hancock will shortly be making a formal announcement that PHE is to be scrapped and replaced by a new body that the publication named as the National Institute for Health Protection.

This new body will be “effective” within the next month, although completing the dismantling of PHE is expected to take until the spring, the Telegraph reported. The new health body will combine the science expertise at the PHE with the NHS test and trace operation, the newspaper said.

The paper claimed the new organisation will be modelled on Germany's Robert Koch Institute, a scientific government body operating in the field of biomedicine and with a particular focus on infectious disease control and prevention.

In separate coverage, the BBC reported today (August 17) that it has seen a leaked document written by PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie in which he said the aim of the new organisation is to boost expertise with “much needed new investment’”.

The revelation comes following criticism of how PHE has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, including not doing enough to advise healthcare employers on how to safeguard at-risk groups such as ethnic minorities against COVID-19

C+D approached the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) for confirmation of the claims that PHE is being dismantled, but the DH was not able to either confirm or deny them at this stage

However, a spokesperson for the DH told C+D today said it has “always been clear” that it is essential to “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”.

“Public Health England has played an integral role in our national response to this unprecedented global pandemic,” it  added.

"Not the time for reorganisation"

In response to the revelation, Gareth Jones, head of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said the NPA would “ensure that public health leadership, in whatever form that is, is well informed about the opportunities to improve health outcomes through community pharmacy”.

The Pharmacists’ Deference Association (PDA) was critical of the alleged move, with PDA director Paul Day telling C+D today that this is “not the time for reorganisation”, as the country remains “in the middle of a pandemic”. “The focus now should be on protecting the nation’s health and ensuring track and trace is robust for the anticipated surge in cases during winter”, Mr Day said. The PDA “questions the timing of the government’s leaked decision”, he added.

The reports that the government plans to dismantle PHE have also sparked debate among health professionals on social media, while the British Medical Association has issued a statement criticising the government’s alleged decision.

What do you make of the reported plans to scrap Public Health England?

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