A total of 13 health unions and professional organisations, including Unite, have written to the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock protesting at Public Health England (PHE) being subsumed into the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).
In the letter, they raised concerns about the creation of NIHP ‘without properly consulting expert staff and without a clear plan for the future of large swathes of PHE.’
“Unite is the lead union for staff at PHE and we have already stated that we believe that PHE was being lined up as the fall guy for ministers’ bungling over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic,” commented Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams.
“Serious questions need to be asked about the political decisions behind why PHE has been axed in this disgraceful fashion. It is an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care answerable to Matt Hancock and his ministerial team, in particular public health minister Jo Churchill (with ‘sponsorship of PHE’ in her portfolio).
“There has been a complete lack of consultation with expert stakeholders and the unions representing the staff about the future functions of PHE at a time when the country is still in the middle of a global pandemic. Such discussions should take place as a matter of urgency.
“The dire situation is compounded by Tory peer Dido Harding being parachuted in to run the NIHP with no apparent qualifications for the job.
“The NIHP needs to be fully resourced and independent with the ability to speak ‘truth to power’ on the key public health issues of the day.
“Unite is also calling for the swingeing cuts to PHE’s budget over recent years to be restored.
“Our members at PHE are dedicated professionals with public health at the centre of their work on a daily basis – their hardworking efforts should be respected and their contribution not used as a political football.
“We will be giving our members maximum support during this unnecessary and politically motivated transition which was not of their making,” she concluded.
By Shaun Noble