Public health professors scrutinise Hancock's National Institute for Health Protection

18 August 2020, 18:26

By Fiona Jones

After Matt Hancock announces the National Institute for Health Protection, two public health professors list some “enormous” problems in a damning analysis.

The Health Secretary has unveiled the National Institute for Health Protection, a health body which has been created after the scrapping of Public Health England.

The new agency will give the UK the "best chance of beating this virus once and for all" as it will focus solely on pandemics and public health, Matt Hancock told a think tank earlier today.

Mr Hancock also confirmed Dido Harding, who leads NHS test and trace, will be leading the institute in its first few months - a move that has raised eyebrows after Ms Harding's own admittance she is "no public health expert."

Independent SAGE member Professor Martin McKee remarked that this institute is reportedly meant to replicate Berlin's Robert Koch Institute which is headed by two world-leading biologists; "We seem to have appointed a chair and a chief executive who have none of that experience whatsoever, so that's just one of the problems."

He continued, "It's not clear that there has been any consultation with the devolved governments given that public health is a devolved responsibility."

He claimed it doubtful whether "this pronouncement by the Secretary of State to a think tank" should be taken at face value "when he hasn't actually spoken to Parliament" and therefore has not been scrutinised.

"The practical problems which clearly haven't been worked out are so enormous that what we eventually end up with could be anything," Professor Martin said.

President of the Faculty of Public Health Professor Maggie Rae agreed with the analysis that there are "a lot of unanswered problems" with the new institute and when she met Baroness Dido Harding "she had the humility to admit that she wasn't a public health expert."

Professor Maggie continued that there are "lots of messages" about what areas of public health will be covered by this organisation yet it is not including important areas such as environmental and air quality considerations.

She called for the UK to have a "joined up" approach.