Unions accuse Hancock of failing to ‘properly consult’ over creation of NIHP

Civil service unions have serious concerns over the new health body
Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images

By Jonathan Owen

16 Sep 2020

The health secretary failed to “properly consult” when deciding to scrap Public Health England and replace it with a new body, the National Institute for Health Protection, according to civil service unions.

The FDA, PCS and Prospect are among 11 unions and professional bodies that have written to Matt Hancock to express concerns about the way in which the NIHP has been set up and to demand assurances over the independence and impartiality of the new organisation

Hancock announced last month that PHE would be axed and replaced by the NIHP, which will concentrate on work to tackle pandemics, infectious diseases, and biological weapons. The new body will be headed up by Conservative peer Dido Harding on an interim basis

In a letter to the health secretary, which was made public yesterday, trade unions and health bodies warn: “We are alarmed by the creation of the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) without properly consulting expert staff and without a clear plan for the future of large swathes of PHE.

The letter adds: "Commitments to world‐leading services must be matched by funding if they are to be taken seriously by staff and the public. We seek a binding commitment to the independence of the National Institute for Health Protectionand public health professionals and their vital ability to speak truth to power and to the public at anational, regional and local level."

Other signatories to the letter include the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing, Unison, Unite, British Dental Association, Federation of Clinical Scientists, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, and Managers in Partnership.

Hancock is being asked to provide "an acknowledgement that delivery of strategic public health functions needs to be the responsibility of publicly accountable public health bodies."

The letter also states: "We urge you to enhance the crucial ability for staff to move between organisations and systems with an assurance that all NIHP staff should be on consistent, national terms and conditions of service relevant to their area of activity and specialism, such as equivalent to those in the NHS or civil service as appropriate."

Mark Serwotka, general secretary, PCS, said: “The decision to abolish PHE and set up the National Institute for Health Protection without consulting unions and considering the staff is another reckless move by a dangerously incompetent government."

Mike Clancy, general secretary, Prospect, commented: “For 11 unions and professional bodies to come together in this way shows the strength of feeling about this change and the way it has been announced.”

And Simon Hardcastle, national officer, FDA, said: “The secretary of state needs to provide the assurances we seek as a matter of urgency without further ministerial hindrance.”

Responding to the concerns, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We will be consulting with staff and engaging with an external stakeholder advisory group on where Public Health England’s health improvement functions would be best placed in order to continue supporting the UK’s public health system and helping people live longer, healthier and happier lives.”

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