Politico

Britain eyes creation of pandemic response unit


The U.K. will scrap health care agency Public Health England (PHE) and replace it with a specialist pandemic response unit, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

The new unit, called the National Institute for Health Protection, will be announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock “later this week,” the paper said, adding it will be “in place” by September but not fully complete until the spring.

The institute will merge the pandemic response work of PHE and the U.K.’s National Health Service’s (NHS) contact-tracing operation, and is modeled on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute.

“The National Institute for Health Protection’s goal will be simple: to ensure that Britain is one of the best equipped countries in the world to fight the pandemic,” a senior minister told the Telegraph. “We want to bring together the science and the scale in one new body so we can do all we can to stop a second coronavirus spike this autumn.”

The U.K. was slow to increase its testing and tracking capacities at the beginning of the outbreak, and has been one of Europe’s hardest hit countries.

PHE has faced harsh criticism from ministers for its handling of the coronavirus crisis. The government adopted a new way of counting COVID-19 deaths after concerns that PHE’s method overstated them.

Opposition politicians attacked the move. Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth called the move a “desperate attempt at blame shifting,” telling the Mirror: “PHE could have been better prepared if the Tories hadn’t spent years cutting public health budgets and then outsourcing much of the testing and tracing response on this pandemic. And 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?”

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Munira Wilson tweeted: “Ministers attempt to deflect responsibility for their shambolic management of the pandemic by a bureaucratic reorganisation, headed up [by] their mate who has made such a storming success of Test & Trace.”

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