UK Government Slammed By Opposition MPs Over Reported Plans to Scrap National Health Body

The United Kingdom’s Health Secretary is reportedly seeking to replace Public Health England (PHE) amid criticisms that the organisation failed to respond effectively to the coronavirus pandemic.

Government ministers are facing criticism on Sunday following reports that Health Secretary Matt Hancock is looking to scrap Public Health England (PHE) and replace it with a new pandemic response agency.

Hancock is reportedly going to announce the formation of a National Institute for Health Protection in the coming week, tasked with overseeing PHE’s work on Covid-19 as well as the implementation of the UK’s NHS Test and Trace system.

Opposition MPs have accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of attempting to “shift the blame” due to “ministerial failures” in response to the pandemic.

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth demanded “urgent clarity” from the government as to why “time-consuming structural reorganisation mid-pandemic is helpful”.

Ashworth also slammed the Conservative cuts to the public sector saying that it would be better prepared without slashed health budgets and “outsourcing much of the testing and tracing response on this pandemic”.

“Where does this leave other important health prevention priorities for example on sexual health services, drug and alcohol services and obesity that PHE carries out?”, he told The Mirror.

Labour were not the only opposition party to criticise the move. Lib Dem health spokeswoman Munira Wilson wrote that government ministers were shifting responsibility for their “shambolic management of the pandemic to a bureaucratic reorganisation” and accused Hancock of failing to sufficiently introduce the Test and Trace system.

Speaking to the Metro on Sunday she said that the announcement had gone down “like a bucket of cold sick”.

“Instead of rearranging the deckchairs, they should be learning lessons ahead of a possible second wave. The government must finally deliver the comprehensive strategy to test, trace and isolate every case of coronavirus so we can keep people safe and prevent new surges”, she said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said that Public Health England had 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 spokesman added.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the National Institute for Health Protection will be introduced in September but will take until 2021 for the handover to be completed.

It is believed to be based on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, as well as taking inspiration from the South Korean pandemic response capacity.

The Health Secretary reportedly wanted to give sufficient time to complete the move before a potential increase in coronavirus cases in the autumn.

The organisation’s purpose will be to tackle pandemics specifically, with the body’s new chief executive reporting directly to the Health Secretary and England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, giving ministers direct control over the response.

Neither Downing Street nor the Department of Health and Social care have denied the reports.

PHE came under scrutiny after it was revealed that coronavirus deaths were being logged even if a person had died of another cause within 28 days, which led to a system change and removed 5,377 deaths from the UK’s overall death toll.

The body has also been criticised for not having a necessary number of diagnostic tests available to track the spread of the disease in the early stages of the pandemic.

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