National Voices statement on the announcement to dismantle Public Health England (PHE)

Thu, 20 August 2020

We have grave concerns about the manner, timing and apparent content of recent announcements on the future of Public Health England.

National Voices is the leading coalition of health and social care charities in England. We have more than 160 members covering a diverse range of health conditions and communities, connecting us with the experiences of millions of people. We work together to strengthen the voice of patients, service users, carers, their families, and the voluntary organisations that work for them. 

We at National Voices predominately focus upon what matters to people in health and care, not the organisational boundaries through which services are delivered. However, we have grave concerns about the manner, timing and apparent content of recent announcements on the future of Public Health England:

1.       The creation of new organisations sucks up energy that would better be focussed on improving the performance of existing agencies. We are still in the middle of a pandemic – there is a real risk that leaders and staff of PHE will now need to focus on the HR and legal implications of a restructure, rather than on the pandemic response.

2.       Fighting a virus is only part of what we need to do to get through this crisis. This crisis has laid bare fault lines running through society that we need to address in order to improve our resilience, including:

·       the impact of austerity on poorer communities,

·       widespread racial inequality,

·       growing mental ill health and obesity, and their unequal distribution.

These realities cannot be parcelled up neatly into health protection or health improvement. They require cross agency, cross government, cross societal focus and action.

3.       We now urgently need to hear from Government how these important topics will be progressed and how we avoid losing momentum, particularly on the inequality agenda.

We urge Government to learn from where the pandemic response went well. When it did so it was on the basis of good partnership working locally, supported by good guidance and intelligence from the national centre – not by investing our faith and focus in one national, technical, centralised mechanism.

Dr Charlotte Augst, CEO of National Voices, said:

One thing COVID-19 has shown for anyone to see, is that clinical management is only one part of how health is protected. Our lives, where we live and work, whether we have strong connections to our communities or not, shapes where the burden of ill health is felt most acutely. Charities large and small make an important contribution to this wider health and wellbeing agenda – we need clarity on who we can work with in central Government to maintain momentum and tackle inequalities.