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‘Irresponsible scrapping Public Health England during Covid crisis’ Tower Hamlets Mayor warns

PUBLISHED: 07:00 19 August 2020

Mayor Biggs warning to health secretary Matt Hancock (inset) to focus on combatting Covid-19, not shift blame for mistakes made handling pandemic. Picture: Mike Brooke and (inset) Dept of Health

Mayor Biggs warning to health secretary Matt Hancock (inset) to focus on combatting Covid-19, not shift blame for mistakes made handling pandemic. Picture: Mike Brooke and (inset) Dept of Health

Mike Brooke/Dept Health

Government plans to scrap Public Health England during the Covid-19 pandemic has been slammed as “irresponsible and astonishing” by the mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Mayor John Biggs... Those who harrasses neighbours should forfeit social housing.Mayor John Biggs... Those who harrasses neighbours should forfeit social housing." Picture: Mike Brooke

John Biggs attacked the government last night for its timing and for “irresponsibly prioritising a reorganisation that consumes time, energy and money” when resources should be put into combatting the virus.

“The decision is mystifying in the middle of a global pandemic,” he said.

“We face startling health inequalities and the focus must be on combatting Covid-19, not rearranging an agency to shift blame for mistakes made in handling of the pandemic.

“The government must urgently let Public Health England get on with the job.”

Depty mayor Rachel Blake... Depty mayor Rachel Blake... "Champions can help by sharing knowledge with friends, family and neighbours to help reduce the spread of the virus." Picture: Mike Brooke

He has vented his fury in a letter to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock over scrapping the public body.

The new National Institute for Health Protection takes over the job of the NHS Test and Trace programme.

Mayor Biggs, together with deputy mayor Rachel Blake who has cabinet responsibility for public health, points out the “disproportionate impact of Covid on ethnic families that widens health inequalities.

They are calling on the health secretary to focus on helping authorities like Tower Hamlets to reduce inequalities and bring in a “test and trace” system led by local health experts.

Cllr Blake said: “Scrapping Public Health England is irresponsible, made even worse by control of the new agency handed over to a Tory peer with limited experience and who hasn’t delivered the ‘world-beating’ test-and-trace system we were promised.”

But the government announced yesterday that it would press ahead with the plans in the face of widespread opposition, to “respond to threats to the nation’s public health”.

The health secretary, who tested positive for Covid-19 back in March, insisted: “The new organisation has a single and relentless mission to protect people from external threats to this country’s health, like biological weapons, pandemics and infectious diseases of all kinds.”

But Ministers have been accused of using Public Health England as a scapegoat for other failings in the pandemic crisis.

Labour’s shadow public health minister Alex Norris said: “We went into this pandemic with health inequalities widening and life expectancy going backwards for the poorest. Covid-19 has thrived on these inequalities.

“It’s risky to undertake such a shake-up while still grappling with Covid-19 and an anticipated winter spike looming and threat of a second wave.”

The middle of a pandemic was “not the time” to dismantle the health agency with its responsibilities tackling health inequalities like obesity and smoking, according to the King’s Fund think tank.

These issues are endemic in the East End, where the Tower Hamlets Council has been waging a non-stop public health campaign for the past decade, in the face of Whitehall budget cuts year on year.


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