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Abolition of Public Health England

On 18 August 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that Public Health England (PHE) would be abolished. PHE had been established as an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in 2013. It was responsible for a range of public health functions, including preventing ill health, reducing health inequalities and responding to public health emergencies.

Initially, government announced that PHE would be merged with NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre – both created as part of the COVID-19 response – to form the National Institute for Health Protection. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, said that the creation of a new public health protection agency would give ‘the best chance of beating this virus once and for all – and of spotting and being ready to respond to other health threats, now and in the future.’ Hancock also stated that his department would engage with PHE experts on ‘decisions around the future of PHE’s remaining health improvement functions.’

Later developments

In March 2021, Matt Hancock announced that the new health protection agency would be named the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), rather than the National Institute for Health Protection. It was also later confirmed that PHE’s other public health functions would be taken on by the Office for Health Promotion, later Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID). UKHSA and OHID became operational on 1 October 2021. Functions such as regional and local support for screening and immunisation services were transferred to NHS England and Improvement.


The government’s decision proved controversial. For example, the Health Foundation, Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund jointly stated that ‘dismantling Public Health England in the midst of a pandemic carries serious risks.’ The three charities warned that there was a lack of evidence behind this decision and increasing emphasis on infection control could lead to a loss of focus on other areas of public health, such as tackling health inequalities.


Department of Health and Social Care.
Government creates new National Institute for Health Protection [webpage].
gov.uk; 2020. 

Health Foundation.
Dismantling PHE in the midst of a pandemic carries serious risks [webpage].
Health Foundation; 2020. 

Department of Health and Social Care.
Public health system reforms: location of Public Health England functions from 1 October [webpage].
gov.uk; 2021. 

Public Health England.
About us [webpage].
gov.uk; 2021.