The Daily Telegraph

Organisati­on that replaces PHE ‘must be led by scientist’


THE organisati­on that replaces Public Health England must be led by a scientist, rather than Baroness Dido Harding, health experts have said.

Yesterday, The Sunday Telegraph revealed that the embattled quango will be scrapped this week in favour of a National Institute for Health Protection.

It follows severe criticism over PHE’S response to the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular the slowness to ramp up testing in the early weeks.

Boris Johnson has previously described the performanc­e as “sluggish”.

Government sources said at the weekend that Baroness Harding, the former Talk Talk chief executive, is tipped to head the new body, which will be an amalgam of PHE’S pandemic response functions and NHS Test and Trace, which she currently leads.

However, independen­t medics last night criticised the proposal, one saying that allowing her to take control would “make as much sense as Chris Whitty [the chief medical officer] being appointed the Vodafone head of branding and corporate image”.

According to a senior minister, the National Institute for Health Protection – intended to bring together the scientific expertise of PHE with the logistical power of the NHS – will be modelled on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute.

Professor Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “The organisati­onal culture needed for effective science is not the same as that needed for state bureaucrac­ies nor that needed for commercial organisati­ons.

“In this regard it is notable that the president of the RKI is a highly rated scientist himself.

“So if we do have a to have a new health protection organisati­on, please can this be adequately funded, please can this be science-focused and please can this be science-led.”

Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary, is understood to be seeking someone with experience of both health policy and the private sector, to lead the new body.

Last night the British Medical Associatio­n said that PHE should not be made a scapegoat for wider government failures.

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