Report on Public Health England's first 7 months

The Health Select Committee reviewed the first 7 months of Public Health England's (PHE) operation and made recommendations to government.

The committee felt that PHE had sufficiently achieved its target of establishing itself as a new body, while ensuring the continuity of public-facing campaigns (such as Change4Life) and other core activity. The committee, however, echoed the concerns expressed by the Faculty of Public Health, that it was unclear how Public Health England would deal with future local public health emergencies.

The committee was concerned that it had received evidence suggesting that PHE staff did not feel able to contradict government policy. The committee felt that PHE needed to be an independent and 'fearless' organisation, providing trusted information without influence from party political concerns. The committee had also heard evidence suggesting that, locally, directors of public health were not always given sufficient status within local authorities and that public health teams were lacking capacity due to unfilled posts.

Government response

In June, the government, in its Response to the House of Commons Health Committee report on Public Health England, reassured the Health Select Committee that PHE would be free to comment and publish on challenging issues and that no subject was out of bounds. However, the government suggested that PHE would be most effective as a part of the Department of Health, and that its priorities should be driven by (but not limited to) immediate ministerial priorities.

On the point of clarity around preparedness for emergencies, the government assured the committee that the ultimate responsibility lay with the secretary of state. PHE had a role in managing cases, which often required a local response. As a result, the government was unwilling to definitively assign responsibility to one single entity, be it PHE, local government or the NHS and impose a standard model of responding to public health issues.

Source(s)

House of Commons Health Committee.
Public Health England - eighth report of session 2013-14.
HMSO; 2014.

Department of Health.
Government response to the House of Commons Health Committee Report on Public Health England (eighth report of session 2013-14).
HMSO; 2014.