Rob Lyons

Public Health England: A Predictable Failure

by Rob Lyons As the old joke goes, “You had one job.” Public Health England (PHE) is an executive agency of the Department for Health and Social Care. It's fundamental mission is “to protect the public’s health from infectious diseases and other public health hazards”. Yet as the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, it’s increasingly clear that it is failing. PHE has long been more interested in lecturing us about our lifestyles than making the crucial preparations for another pandemic. As Christopher Snowdon pointed out in the Spectator, PHE spent £220 million on anti-obesity schemes in 2018-19, but just £89 million on tackling infectious diseases. We can watch our own waistlines, thanks very much, but dealing with a pandemic requires a national response. PHE has been asleep at the wheel. Critics have noted that the Government's committee of scientific advisers, SAGE, doesn’t include any public health panjandrums. But why would it? Expertise on developing cartoon-character smartphone apps about healthy eating or running another round of Stoptober anti-smoking campaigns is about as much use in the current situation as the proverbial chocolate teapot. When PHE has been called upon in the current crisis, it has not risen to the occasion. One important area where PHE could have excelled was rapidly scaling up testing. The UK's capacity for testing at the start of...

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July 2022
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