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Leader's column: Middle of a pandemic the wrong time for restructure

In her latest column, Tameside Council leader Cllr Brenda Warrington says abolishing Public Health England is "the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons".

In between Westminster politicians and local authorities, there exists an entire middle tier of public sector bodies and agencies. 

Many of them are not particularly well-known, but their work is vital to the smooth running of our country. In the continuing struggle against the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most important of these is Public Health England.

Established in 2013, Public Health England held responsibility for improving people’s everyday health and keeping them out of hospital. 

If you’ve ever looked for advice on losing weight or quitting smoking, the odds are that it was Public England Health that provided it. However, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that the organisation will now be abolished and replaced.

My first issue with this announcement is the timing. Anybody who has ever been through an organisational restructure, whether in the private or public sector, knows that they involve a massive amount of disruption. 

At the local level, Public Health England’s health protection teams have been vital in dealing with flare-ups of coronavirus infections. 

They do not need to be distracted with worries about their jobs at a time when all our energies should be focused on containing the next stage of the pandemic.

Furthermore, the reasons for making such a huge change at a critical time remain unclear to me. 

There have definitely been major shortcomings with how some aspects of how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled so far, but having dealt with these issues for months it is my view that Public Health England is not to blame. 

They have actually been far more successful in getting in touch with people who may have been exposed to coronavirus than the private contractors used by the government.

The disturbing conclusion is that those in power are more interested in making Public Health England a scapegoat for their own failures than in making the improvements that our test and trace infrastructure desperately needs.

Abolishing Public Health England is the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. 

Instead of one-size-fits-all diktats handed down from Whitehall, we need to harness the power of local health experts who know their area and know what measures will work on the ground. 

We have already witnessed too much confusion and disruption in the government’s response to the pandemic. 

Now is not the time to pile on yet more bad decisions.


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