Matt Hancock has confirmed Public Health England will be replaced by a new body focused on preparing for external threats like pandemics.
Baroness Dido Harding, who runs NHS Test and Trace in England, will be the interim chief of the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).
PHE has come under intense scrutiny of its coronavirus response, while many ministers have been accused of using PHE as a scapegoat for failings such as the decision to halt community testing and tracing of contacts in March.
The new institute will begin work with immediate effect and will bring together Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace, as well as the analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre under a single leadership team, to “strengthen” public health.
The Health Secretary said it would have a “single and relentless mission” of protecting people from external health threats including pandemics, biological weapons and infections diseases
“To give ourselves the best chance of beating this virus once and for all – and of spotting and being ready to respond to other health threats, now and in the future, we are creating a brand new organisation to provide a new approach to public health protection and resilience.
“My single biggest fear is a novel flu, or another major health alert, hitting us right now in the middle of this battle against coronavirus.
Hancock added: “Even once this crisis has passed – and it will pass – we need a disease control infrastructure that gives us the permanent, standing capacity to respond as a nation and the ability to scale up at pace.”
The move has raised many questions as the county battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
The leader of the Labour party Sir Kier Strammer twitted :
At a time of national emergency, this is no way to run a country.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) August 18, 2020
What will the NIHP do?
The responsibilities of the NIHP will include:
- NIHP local health protection teams to deal with infections and other threats
- support and resources for local authorities to manage local outbreaks
- the COVID-19 testing programme
- contact tracing
- the Joint Biosecurity Centre
- emergency response and preparedness to deal with the most severe incidents at national and local level
- research and reference laboratories and associated services
- specialist epidemiology and surveillance of all infectious diseases
- the Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards
- global health security
- providing specialistic scientific advice on immunisation and countermeasures