ITV reported on August 15th that Health Secretary Matt Hancock was set to announce that Public Health England was to be 'broken up', and in particular pointed to comments by ministers about the effectiveness of the body:

It comes amid repeated reports ministers have been frustrated with PHE, with Boris Johnson complaining of the country’s “sluggish” response to Covid-19 – a comment widely thought to have been aimed at the organisation.

This move was confirmed today by Hancock, who, in a speech at Policy Exchange reported by Sky News, said:

So today I'm announcing that today we are forming a new organisation, the National Institute for Health Protection. The National Institute for Health Protection will have a single and relentless mission; protecting people from external threats to this countries health. External threats like biological weapons, pandemics, and of course, infectious diseases of all kinds. It will combine our world-class talent and science infrastructure with the growing response capability of NHS Test & Trace, and the sophisticated analytical capability that we're building in the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

This report repeats the claim that ministers have been frustrated with PHE, and does give one specific criticism:

The government adopted a new way of counting daily deaths from COVID-19, after concerns were raised that the method used by PHE officials overstated them.

What other reasons have been given by the Government to justify the breaking up of Public Health England, and the creation of this new body - the NIHP?

1 Answer 1


From the BBC:

PHE has come under intense scrutiny of its response to the coronavirus crisis. It has been criticised for the controversial decision in March to halt community testing and tracing of contacts. But its defenders say it is being made a scapegoat for failures elsewhere in the government. For now, PHE will continue its role in combating obesity and running other measures to prevent ill health. [...] PHE has been blamed for the suspension of community testing and tracing in March but senior sources say it was not set up to run a mass diagnostic testing system and any decisions made then were in partnership with Government advisers.

PoliticsHome echoes the assertion quoted in the question, stating that PHE has been "criticised for its method of reporting daily deaths, with some fearing the figures were being overstated." It also includes the following explanation from an unnamed source:

"One of the many problems with PHE is that it has been spread too thin during the full pandemic.

"Instead of having an organisation that is constantly on alert for pandemics you have an organisation that has been concentrating on prevention of ill-health."

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    Is it worth noting PHE has only been in exeisbtance for 8 years? It was part of the NHS restructure under David Cameron.
    – Jontia
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 18:41

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