Christina Marriott, Chief Executive of RSPH responded to the announcement:

“If these reports are correct we are left with more questions than answers. We question the timing of an announcement to scrap our national public health agency in the midst of a global pandemic and before any public inquiry any has started, let alone reported. We recognise that there have been some serious challenges in terms of our response to Covid-19, including the timing of the lockdown, the ongoing ineffectiveness of Tier 2 Track and Trace and postcode-level data previously not being available to DPHs. Multiple lessons need to be learnt before solutions can be in place in advance of the winter. To do otherwise risks avoidable mistakes in subsequent waves of the pandemic which will only harm the public’s health further. 

Any successor organisations will stand or fall depending on whether a series of critical issues are addressed. 

Firstly, government must reverse its sidelining of public health. This happened under austerity, when NHS budgets were protected to some degree, but public health budgets were slashed. It happened at the beginning of the pandemic when the public health approaches, which had been so successful in other countries were ignored.

Secondly, public health cannot be defined as a narrow health protection agenda. Covid-19 has shown that tackling non-communicable diseases such as obesity and diabetes,  including their health inequalities, is vital if England’s population is to be resilient to pandemics. It may be appropriate for the functions to sit in different agencies – but clear accountability for outcomes in health improvement, health inequalities and health protection must be established.

With that accountability must come sufficient funding. The 25% real term cut in its funding since 2015 must be reversed. Public health needs a medium term settlement: the annual uncertainty of budgets must be removed.

There must be clarity in the relationship between national organisations and local leaders, including Directors of Public Health, particularly if they will assume greater responsibilities. And there must be clarity in the relationship with government – with sufficient independence for any new bodies to speak out but the Secretary of State’s current accountability for public health, and its agency, retained.”

RSPH has recently conducted a survey of its membership about the response to Covid-19. Among the findings is a pandemic performance score which suggests that Public Health England are viewed quite favourably by those in the Public Health community.