• Duncan Selbie apologised to PHE staff who were told via the media their organisation would be scrapped
  • Says criticism of the body is not what Matt Hancock “believes or says in public or private”
  • CEO said it could take “months” for a decision to be made on how PHE’s wide remit will be provided
  • Strongly refutes the suggestion that PHE had failed during the pandemic

The chief executive of Public Health England says he is ‘sorry beyond words’ the demise of the arm’s length body was briefed to the media before his own staff were told.

The Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday that PHE would be scrapped and replaced by a new health protection body.

In a message to staff yesterday, seen by HSJ, PHE’s chief executive Duncan Selbie wrote: “I am sorry beyond words at the way that decisions about our future have been briefed to the media before I have had the chance to explain them.

“The prime minister and secretary of state wish to recreate an organisation with a sole focus on health protection and to bring together our health protection services with the budgets and people of the NHS test and trace programme to create a new national institute for health protection.

“The aim is to boost our unique scientific capability and world leading health protection expertise with much needed new investment.

“The future arrangements for delivering everything else we do for the country including on health improvement and our corporate services will be worked through over the coming weeks and months and will, of course, include formal consultation and the proper HR processes to ensure this is handled transparently and fairly.”

PHE has come under fierce criticism during the coronavirus crisis. But Mr Selbie said: “No one remotely close to our work of the past eight years, and since January on the pandemic would agree with the headlines that this change reflects ‘pandemic failure’ on our part.

“Certainly this is not what the secretary of state believes or says in public or private.

“No public body has done more to protect the health of the people than PHE nor has more reason to be proud of its contribution. Equally on health improvement over the years on cancer, tobacco, obesity and air quality amongst much more, and crucially in support of our colleagues in local government, the NHS and our work internationally on behalf of the UK.”

PHE did not wish to comment further.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “PHE have played an integral role in our national response to this unprecedented global pandemic.

“We have always been clear that we must learn the right lessons from this crisis to ensure that we are in the strongest possible position, both as we continue to deal with COVID-19 and to respond to any future public health threat.”