A Sunday Telegraph article has revealed plans to close Public Health England (PHE), replacing it with a new body based on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute.
The Government has not confirmed the report, though the Telegraph expects an announcement this week. In the meantime, PHE’s work on coronavirus will be merged with the NHS test and trace system.
PHE, created by then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has reportedly drawn frustration from ministers in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sky News reported that PHE, as a division of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), is not independent, and ministers have been in control of its decision making. Some stakeholders have therefore been surprised at the criticism of the body, and the perceived need for reform. Dr Amitava Banerjee, associate professor at the Institute of Health Informatics, University College London, said to Sky:
“If PHE has fallen short, responsibility lies firmly with the current government and health ministers.
“Rather than a rash restructuring, a sensible approach must involve a rapid enquiry to establish lessons learned for future waves and future pandemics.”
The Robert Koch Institute in Germany functions independently of government, allowing a different perspective from that granted to PHE. The new English body, believed to be called the Institute for Health Protection, will aim to replicate this model when it comes on-line next month.