Christina Marriott, Chief Executive of RSPH responded:

To undertake such a shake up during the midst of a pandemic, and before the full inquiry promised by the Prime Minister, seems risky, and a questionable use of resources. It risks the loss of experienced and dedicated staff and demoralising those who remain. It risks system-wide disruption: previous top-down reorganisations have shown us that these take years to work through the system. And, most importantly, it risks not addressing the real issues of the failure of England’s response to the pandemic. We are an international outlier in the number of people we have lost to Covid-19 and we must learn the lessons quickly and before any subsequent wave.  Reorganising public health is a distraction.

“The lessons we need to learn are about disinvestment in public health – and the upcoming Spending Review is the ideal opportunity for the Government to properly and securely fund public health. We need to learn lessons about how we commission private sector organisations to ensure they fit within the public health system. And we need to understand what went so very wrong in England.

“While we welcome the commitment to bolster capacity and capabilities in health protection, the unanswered question is what happens to health improvement. We know that one thing that marked England out as Covid-19 hit was our poor public health including our high rates of inequalities, of smoking, and of overweight people and obesity. So Covid-19 makes it vitally important that prevention is not side-lined – but so does every year when 40% of avoidable deaths are as a result of tobacco, obesity, inactivity and alcohol harm. Clear national leadership on this is critical for the public’s health. The uncertainty created by today’s announcement is not acceptable.

“To embark on such wholesale change without a clear direction of what will happen to health improvement and prevention does seem at odds with a Government which only a fortnight ago published an obesity strategy and which last year launched a Prevention Green Paper. We do welcome the commitment to embedding health in all policies and the work of all Government departments, but this will require proper funding, national analytic expertise and performance monitoring. We need national leadership for public health, and it is currently unclear where this will sit.”