Government has used PHE as a scapegoat says Unite

02 September 2020

The move to scrap Public Health England (PHE) in the middle of a global pandemic has been criticised by Unite, who says the government is seeking a scapegoat for its own failings.

Health secretary Matt Hancock officially announced on 18 August that PHE was to be merged into a new, larger body. The National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) will focus on external threats like biological weapons, pandemics and infectious diseases. 

The move to scrap PHE without holding a public inquiry to determine fault during Covid-19 (for instance in the area of testing) has been heavily criticised by Unite, the lead union for employees at PHE.

Unite has said its staff are being lined up as ‘the fall guy’ for ministers’ bungling over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. And it strongly disputes some media reports that unions were consulted before the announcement.

It is now calling for PHE to continue in its present role, and the money cut from its budget by the government to be restored.

Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams said: ‘The [government’s] catalogue of errors ranges from the lateness to lockdown in March, to the failure to have a so-called “world beating” test-and-trace system in place by June.

‘We think that the underlying agenda here is the future privatisation of PHE’s national infection service – the Tory government is obsessed with NHS privatisation, which has been shown to be highly flawed and not a good use of taxpayers’ money.’

Summing up, Jackie said that instead of creating the NIHP, the government should concentrate on giving PHE the resources it needs ‘to do the job it is designed to do, which is protecting the public health of the people in England, without inappropriate buck-passing political interference.’

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