‘Found guilty without a trial’: The King’s Fund response to the shake up of public health

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Commenting on Matt Hancock MP’s announcement of changes to the English public health system, Richard Murray, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, said:

‘Public Health England (PHE) appears to have been found guilty without a trial. It is unclear what problem government are hoping to solve by carving up PHE and redistributing its responsibilities. Undoubtedly, there are questions to be answered about England’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, but the middle of a pandemic is not the time to dismantle England’s public health agency. 

‘History is littered with reorganisations of the health system that are costly, time consuming and demoralising for staff. It is risky to undertake such a shake up while the nation is still grappling with Covid-19, ahead of an anticipated winter spike in demand for health services and with the looming threat of a second wave of the virus.

‘The proposed changes could bring greater accountability and transparency to England’s track and trace system. While that would be welcome, the reshuffling of public health duties risks significant collateral damage. PHE’s role goes far beyond pandemic response and includes, among other things, tackling obesity, reducing health inequalities and improving life expectancy, all of which will be key to the country’s recovery once the worst of the pandemic has passed. We support the Secretary of State’s commitments to embed health improvement and inequality reduction across government and look forward to seeing the detail needed to achieve this critical endeavour. PHE staff have the expertise to support this, and this must not be lost as a consequence of these changes.

‘More immediately, the dividing up of national public health responsibilities could further complicate the balance of local and national decision-making and cause greater confusion for local Directors of Public Health who are responsible for both health protection and health improvement.

‘If the government wants to avoid the mistakes of the past, it must be crystal clear on what it hopes the new National Institute for Health Protection will achieve, how the many other critical public health duties will be delivered across government and how the whole system will be adequately funded.’

Notes to editors

Richard Murray is available for interview, as are Sally Warren (Director of Policy) and Helen McKenna (Senior Policy Fellow).

For more information and interview requests contact The King’s Fund press office on 07584 146035.

The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all.

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