'The privilege of my career': Selbie's farewell to Public Health England as NHSBSA head becomes chief exec

"You are the rock stars of the health and care system," Selbie tells PHE staff as Michael Brodie becomes interim chief exec
Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Archive/PA Images

Duncan Selbie, who is stepping down as chief executive of Public Health England as it transitions to become part of the new National Institute for Health Protection, has said the role has been "the honour and privilege" of his career.

Michael Brodie, chief executive of NHS Business Services Authority, has been appointed interim chief exec of the public-health body. Brodie said yesterday he would head up PHE "as we transition to the next phase of the evolution of the public health system".

The leadership change comes after health secretary Matt Hancock announced yesterday that PHE would be scrapped. The NIHP will combine the existing "talent and science infrastructure" of PHE with NHS test and trace and the work of the Joint Biosecurity Centre, and be dedicated "to the investigation and prevention of infectious diseases and external health threats”, Hancock said.

Selbie said that as the NIHP replaces PHE, it is "a sensible moment for me to stand aside and create space for new leadership".

"The most obvious next priority is to secure the right and best future for all those other responsibilities of PHE that are not about health protection and I can assure everyone that there will be more on this to follow soon," he said.

In a blog post addressed to staff, Selbie, who became founding chief exec of PHE when it was established in 2013, said he had been "immensely proud of what we do under intense public and political scrutiny always with professionalism and dignity and with the values that matter the most, decency, kindness and respect".

"It has been the honour and privilege of my career over 41 years to lead PHE and I want to convey my heartfelt thanks to my colleagues for the remarkable contribution each has made to protecting and improving the public’s health over our eight years together," he said.

Selbie has previously been chief executive of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals,  director general of programmes and performance and then director general of commissioning for the then-Department of Health, and chief exec of South East London Strategic Health Authority. He joined the NHS in January 1980.

He told staff: "Be proud of what you do, always aim for the stars and look out for and after each other. You are the rock stars of the health and care system."

"I wish Baroness Harding as the chair of this new organisation and the transition every success, and I know everyone will be delighted to hear that Michael Brodie will be returning as the interim chief executive officer to PHE, from tomorrow pending the appointment of a new leadership team."

Brodie has led NHS BSA for a year, having previously spent four years as shareholder director at the pharmaceuticals company Porton Biopharma and six years at PHE as a finance and commercial director.

Announcing his new post, he said: "It is only right of me to start by expressing my gratitude to Duncan and to every colleague [at PHE] for their unstinting efforts thus far during the pandemic. My thanks also to the wider public health system and in particular directors of Public Health and their local teams."

"Whilst change is always difficult, we have an opportunity, together, to respect and build on what has gone before and to create and deliver an exciting and positive vision for the future and I will work tirelessly to ensure a smooth and successful transition," he added.

'Sorry beyond words'

Selbie's public comments came after he wrote to staff on Sunday saying he was "sorry beyond words" that staff had learned of the decision to scrap PHE via the media.

Nodding to criticism of how the public-health body has responded to the coronavirus crisis, he said: "Any organisation that says it got everything right is wrong and no public health body enters a pandemic expecting to look the same as a consequence.

"However, 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."

He said no public body had done more to protect people's health 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."

Signing off his message to staff, Selbie added: "I am immensely proud of what PHE represents and has achieved for the UK and of each of you.

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this and for your support through the years. No chief executive could have asked for more."

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