1 September 2020
What is Talking Points?
Cambridge News asks a representative of each local political party to answer a question on a local issue in just 300 words. The answers are then published in the physical copy of the Cambridge News every fortnight. Here, we share our response to the question.
Today's Question: What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of abolishing Public Health England and replacing it with a new National Institute for Health Protection?
Public health is one of the most underfunded, underappreciated and yet most effective branches of healthcare, providing us with widespread vaccination, motor vehicle safety, and safer workplaces, amongst other examples. Preventative medicine exists to reduce premature death and disability, and Public Health England (PHE) is the leading body working towards this goal for the UK population.
The Cambridge Green Party agrees with the many medical leaders who argue that PHE should be fully integrated with local and national NHS services and properly funded. It should be able to conduct a coordinated response to the many health needs of our diverse population, not only COVID-19. Furthermore, it should be completely independent of political influence and not outsourced to private companies, many of which have wasted millions of pounds on poor delivery of initiatives.
The efforts of PHE to deal with the coronavirus pandemic have been hampered by longstanding budgetary cuts and fragmentation of services. Government decision making throughout the pandemic has failed to be transparent and to follow scientific advice. PHE are being made to carry the blame for the resulting problems as the government tries to seek someone else to ascribe fault for their mishandling of the pandemic response.
The proposed National Institute of Health Protection would merge parts of PHE, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre to focus primarily on recovery from COVID-19. The middle of a pandemic is not the right time for such a major organisational change. The change also ignores that the UK is facing many threats to public health: in particular, people require cancer screening, prevention and treatment of obesity, diabetes, child malnutrition and drug or alcohol abuse.
The UK will lose the fight against these issues without a body such as PHE with a mandate for tackling them.
Our response was written by Dr Hannah Charlotte Copley. Hannah is an NHS Doctor and Medical Research Council Researcher, and Co-Convener for Cambridge Green Party. She is a strong advocate for preventative medicine and evidence based public health interventions.