Friday 15 May 2020

Has anybody heard from Public Health England?

I had an article in the Yorkshire Post this week. It's not payywalled so do have a read of it.

Has anybody heard from Public Health England recently? When the agency was set up in 2013, its ‘primary duty’ was ‘to protect the public from infectious diseases and other environmental hazards’ and yet the fight against coronavirus has been led by the Department of Health and the NHS.

While the Chief Medical Officer and his deputy have become household names, the head of PHE (can you name him?) has been nowhere to be seen.
The quango’s main contributions to date have been hindering the roll out of testing with its overly centralised bureaucracy and assuring the public that it is ‘very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected’.

Public Health England gets £4bn from the taxpayer each year. Of this, more than three-quarters goes to local authorities in ring-fenced grants.

Each local authority has Director of Public Health on a six-figure salary. With PHE gone AWOL, the Directors of Public Health have spent the crisis complaining about being left out of the loop.

If there was ever a time for the public health establishment to shine it is now. PHE’s budget for ‘protection from infectious diseases’ has risen from £52m to £86.9m in the last few years.

The latter is, admittedly, only two per cent of the public health budget, but how the money is divvied up is a political choice. If a fraction of the £4bn available had been spent stockpiling personal protective equipment, we would be in a much stronger position than we are now.

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