Public Health England (PHE) and its dedicated staff are being lined up as ‘the fall guy’ for ministers’ bungling over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Monday 17 August).
Unite, which is the lead union for employees at PHE, said that instead of merging PHE into a new body charged with preventing future pandemics, the PHE should continue in its present role – and the money cut from its budget by the government should be restored.
Unite also said that there should be proper consultations with the unions about the future of PHE, an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care. Unite strongly disputes media reports that the unions were consulted.
Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams said: “It is clear that Public Health England and its dedicated staff are being lined up to be the fall guy for continual bungling by Boris Johnson and his ministers since coronavirus emerged at the beginning of the year.
“The catalogue of errors ranges from the lateness to lockdown in March to the failure to have a so-called ‘world beating’ test-and-trace system in place by June.
“In their desperation to find anyone or any organisation to blame for their own failings, Boris Johnson and health and social care secretary Matt Hancock are lining up the PHE and its staff to be the fall guy.
“We think that the underlying agenda here is the future privatisation of PHE’s national infection service – the Tory government is obsessed with NHS privatisation which has been shown to be highly flawed and not a good use of taxpayers’ money.
“We are calling for PHE to continue in its present role and allowed to do its vital work, rather than spend huge amounts of time, effort and money reorganising England’s public health structures in the middle of a global pandemic.
“We are also calling for the swingeing cuts to its budget over recent years restored. The lack of consultation is both appalling and insulting.
“PHE needs to have the resources to do the job it is designed to do, which is protecting the public health of the people in England, without inappropriate buck-passing political interference.”
Unite senior communications officer