Monday, 29 March 2021

A new dawn or Public Health England 2.0?

So Public Health England's nanny state functions will be passed to a new agency called the Office for Health Promotion. We don't know how much it will cost or who will be running it. Is there any hope that it will be anything other than Public Health England Mark II? Probably not, but let's not rush to condemn it just yet.

I've written about this for the Telegraph...

The Office for Health Promotion presents an opportunity for a fresh start. There is an appetite among the public for health improvement, but the activist-driven sledgehammer approach of taxes and bans favoured by Public Health England has run its course. By setting up an agency for health protection and a separate agency for health improvement, the government is acknowledging the difference between public health issues, such as Covid-19, and personal health issues, such as obesity. The former can justify a certain degree of coercion. The latter cannot.

The new agency needs some fresh faces and fresh thinking. The government has so far said nothing about how much it will cost or who will be running it, but the appointment of Dr Jenny Harries as Chief Executive of the National Institute for Health Protection – which has already been renamed the Health Security Agency – does not bode well. Formerly a regional director for PHE, Harries personifies the UK’s disastrous response to Covid-19. Every call she made in the crucial early months of the pandemic was wrong and yet she is being rewarded with a plum job. They take care of their own in public health.  

There is a chance that the Office for Health Promotion will abandon the failed policies of the past and rely on persuasion rather than force. There is a chance that it will cut out the dead wood and employ some smart people from a range of disciplines. There is a chance that it will become an effective and efficient operation rather than another self-serving, tax-sponging bureaucracy.  

It is all very unlikely, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility. The decisions made by government in the coming weeks will be crucial. Does it want an Office for Health Promotion or Public Health England Mark II?


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