We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Scapegoating of Public Health England

August 21, 2020 11:28 AM
By Cllr Hugh Ashton - Garrick Ward of Lichfield City Council

Public Health England - Imagine

The dismantling of Public Health England is yet another indication of the corruption and incompetence of the Johnson government

Once more, the Johnson Conservative government refuses to take responsibility for its own mistakes. Claiming that Public Health England (PHE) has failed to provide proper guidance during the pandemic, it has been announced that PHE will be dismantled, and will be merged with NHS Track, Test and Trace.

The track, test and trace programme was promoted by the government as "world-beating" and to cost £10bn (estimate at the start of July) . A matter of public record is the past history of the head of NHS Test and Trace and chair of NHS Improvement, Baroness Dido Harding, a former CEO of TalkTalk, forced to step down from that position after admitting (among other things) that she did not know whether customer data accessed in a security breach was encrypted or not. This, and related matters, cost the company £60m and 95,000 customers.

It may also be remembered that Baroness Harding is on the board of the Jockey Club, which approved the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, where over 250,000 visitors were "packed like sardines" according to one, who later developed COVID-19, as did hundreds of others who reported symptoms. Over one hundred deaths have been linked to this event, which took place even after the World Health Organisation had declared a pandemic.

Oh, and one more thing, as a famous TV detective might have said. She is married to Weston-super-Mare MP Conservative John Penrose, who sits on the advisory board of think tank "1828", which has called for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance system and for Public Health England to be scrapped.

So who might Johnson appoint as the head of this new organisation, to be named the National Institute for Health Protection? None other than Baroness Dido Harding, an alumna of the University of Oxford, and classmate of David Cameron.

Quite apart from the obvious cronyism and the continued promotion of the incompetent which has become a trademark of the Johnson government, what does the abolition of Public Health England mean under its new branding?

First, note the change of name from "England" to "National" - a fairly clear indication that the other nations which form the United Kingdom are sidelined in the minds of the powers that be.

But PHE does so much more than pandemic control. As an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care, employing about 5,000 staff, it provides a wide range of expertise on public health issues. From Wikipedia:

  • Health protection:

    • Chemical, radioactive, and environmental hazards

      • Research

      • National poisons database

      • Services for those working with hazardous materials

      • Harm reduction in relation to polluted environments

      • Operations

    • Field epidemiology, including contact tracing

    • Contagious disease surveillance and control

    • Major incident response

  • Health improvement:

    • Substance misuse treatment programmes

    • Health promotion (such as healthy diet or anti-smoking marketing)

    • Health screening programmes (such as cancer screening, STD checks, cardiovascular disease screening, etc.)

    • Reducing health inequalities

    • Specialist healthcare commissioning (in relation to major incidents, etc.)

    • National Cancer Intelligence Network (and other networks)

  • Knowledge and information

    • Substance misuse treatment monitoring

    • Disease registration

    • Research and development

  • Operations:

    • Microbiology unit

      • Microbe production

      • Research

      • References

      • Specialist services

    • Regional units (South / Midlands / North / London)

      • Preparation and response against major incidents

      • Local centres (several centres per regional unit, except London)

        • Local health protection

        • Substance misuse treatment services (over more than one centre)

        • Local specialist commissioning (in relation to major incidents, etc.) and advice

How many of these services will continue? With Johnson seemingly following the Trump model, we may expect to see any environmental issues dealt with by PHE to disappear. Substance abuse? Probably not an issue for this government as long as it doesn't impinge on their comfortable middle-class lifestyle. And reducing health inequalities? Somehow I don't see that as an item of the Conservatives' agenda.

While PHE may have made some mistakes in the past, the middle of a pandemic would not seem to be an appropriate time to reorganise the country's national health advisory body and putting a proven failure at the head of the new organisation. Perhaps significantly, in the past PHE has included deaths from COVID-19 in its statistics, deaths which were swept under the carpet by the government, in order to avoid the charges of stumbling incompetence.

A quote from Twitter (@VeeCee30):

He [Johnson] ignored the science & all the warnings, didn't attend COBRA meetings, mocked ppl wearing masks, shook hands with COVID patients, had no [PPE] stockpile to speak of despite knowing for yrs about this risk.

And yet, somehow PHE gets the blame. I am amazed that Conservative MPs who claim to care about their constituencies and promote themselves as responsible representatives of those who elected them can continue to support a "leader" such as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Yes, we have had incompetent governments in the past. We have had corrupt crony governments in the past. But never have we had this combination of chronic incompetence, caused by the promotion of Brexit bootlickers beyond their level of competence, together with the obvious corruption and cronyism of this government. It is time for a change, and that demands that Tory backbenchers take a stand against this over-privileged, over-educated, and under-performing clique which has lied its way into power and continues to lie to the people of Britain on a daily basis.