A government adviser has accused ministers of “passing of blame” following the announcement of a shake-up of health regulation in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrar’s blistering attack was sparked by an article about the government’s decision to dissolve Public Health England (PHE).
Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced that a new body, the National Institute for Health Protection, will merge many of PHE’s functions with the government’s contact tracing service.
In response, Farrar, a member of the government’s scientific advisory group Sage, tweeted to decry “arbitrary sackings, passing of blame” and “ill-thought through, short term and reactive reforms”.
Arbitrary sackings.Passing of blame.Ill thought through, short term, reactive reforms.Out of context of under investment for years. Response to singular crisis without strategic vision needs for range future challenges.Preempting inevitable public enquiry. https://t.co/maS5ckabVa— Jeremy Farrar (@JeremyFarrar) August 19, 2020
He said there had been underinvestment for years, that the shake-up lacked the strategic vision needed, and that a public inquiry was inevitable.
Instead, he said, the government should listen and learn from other countries and consider long-term public health trends.
Farrar said there was “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to invest in public health, prevention and social care, and to supply the NHS with the capacity to deal with the expected and unexpected.
“Knee jerk, reactive, short-term reforms that fail to listen or learn lessons” would waste the opportunity, he said.
“Knee jerk, reactive, short-term reforms that fail to listen or learn lessons” would be a wasted opportunity, he said.
He described a potential opportunity, born out of crisis, to “listen, learn, reform and invest” to create public health, social care and medical care that would be equitable and inclusive, that could meet the needs of future decades, and that would “surge capacity” to deal with crises.
“There is such an opportunity for a reforming, bold, strategic visionary administration & government,” he said.
“A moment out of crisis to seize. A unique opportunity to bring a country together across political divide.
“As COVID shows few things could be more important.”
The opposition Labour party described the plans to abolish PHE in the middle of a pandemic as “irresponsible”.
Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund health charity, said PHE “appears to have been found guilty without a trial”.