HACKNEY Mayor Philip Glanville has written to Government Health Secretary Matt Hancock about his concerns at the creeping privatisation of the NHS and to reconsider the Government decision to scrap the Public Health England (PHE) service:
We are writing to you regarding your deeply disturbing decision to scrap Public Health England (PHE) and replace it with a new body called the ‘National Institute for Health Protection’ (NIHP) by stealth; without proper engagement, trailed through the media and while Parliament is not sitting.
Dismantling, reorganising and rebranding the critical national agency during a global pandemic is at the very least a significant distraction to the staff who should be otherwise focused on combating the coronavirus and responding to the next stage of
this crisis. At most, this distraction will impact on the ability to effectively combat the virus and stop a second spike in infections – a decision which will ultimately cost lives.
Your decision also raises significant questions regarding the other important functions of PHE, including promoting safe sexual health, vaccination uptake, HIV prevention, good mental health, tackling obesity and alcohol misuse.
Hackney like many more deprived parts of London faces significant health inequalities and challenges in these areas of public health. We are still, despite support for interventions such as PrEP, above the national average in HIV transmissions and almost 60% of adults in Hackney are overweight.
In response, local public health teams in City & Hackney have led on innovative programmes to support our communities, from supporting the ‘Undetectable = Untransmittable’ HIV awareness campaign, to the ‘Healthier Hackney Framework for Change’ to tackle obesity.
But our strong local action must be supplemented by a national strategy with a clear agency lead that is committed, not just to tackling coronavirus and other future pandemics, but to driving localism and improving public health outcomes.
Scrapping PHE throws into question this clarity of responsibility which your announcement failed to address.
We are also concerned about the implications for Public Health England in London, and the leadership role it plays alongside the Mayor of London, London Councils, the NHS and London Boroughs. In London, PHE has worked closely with local public health teams and the GLA, as we take a system approach on many public health issues across the capital – London-wide and at local level.
Moving to this new national health protection organisation undermines this arrangement in London, which matters not only for the residents of the capital, but for the country, as a whole.
As a ‘Good Practice Network borough’ in London working closely with PHE on local best-practice in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it feels like PHE is being made a scapegoat for the wider failure of the Government’s response to coronavirus
including NHS Test and Trace with which they are now being merged.
Cllr Chris Kennedy
With the threat of a ‘second spike’ in coronavirus cases, we believe that now is an opportunity to learn lessons from our role in the Good Practice Network, the importance of a localised response and from other countries where local and regional government has been empowered to act. The current NHS Test and Trace service should be insourced, using the public health structure in local government and primary health to deliver a public, local and more effective tracing service.
Instead, you are enhancing the role of the private sector and planning further costly and time-consuming restructures. We urge you to provide full clarity about the implications of these changes and reconsider your decision to progress with the scrapping of PHE.
Mayor of Hackney
Cllr Chris Kennedy
Cabinet Member for Health, Adult
Social Care and Leisure
Mayor Glanville told local media on August 19:
“I have long called for a localised and publicly accountable system to tackle the spread of the virus, arguing that testing, tracing and tracking is the right tactic, but it is being driven by the centralising and privatising tendencies of the national government.
“Town halls, and not Whitehall or private contractors, should take control of the next phase of coronavirus testing.
“I believe that we are winning the argument. Local public health teams will have a greater role in tracing following the government’s cut in contact tracer jobs. This renewed focus on local first will have to be seen to be believed, but we remain committed to fighting for and delivering such an outcome.”
20 August 2020