Unions warn creation of NIHP risks distracting from dealing with the pandemic

14 September 2020

11 unions and professional bodies which represent workers in Public health England (PHE) have written to Health Secretary Matthew Hancock expressing “alarm” at the lack of consultation in the creation of new body the National Institute for Health Protection.

Public Health England Wellington House

The letter says:

“We are alarmed by the creation of the National Institute for Health Protection without properly consulting expert staff and without a clear plan for the future of large swathes of PHE.”

The letter warns that abolishing PHE and creating a whole new body at this time could distract from vital pandemic work. The letter seeks assurance that workers in PHE will be:

Supported at this time and can focus on the vital public health work they are undertaking.”

The unions also ask for guarantees on funding and independence:

We urge you to ensure that we have an adequately resourced national public health system (including laboratories) with sufficient capacity, resilience and access to data, research and analysis over the long‐term to address all domains of public health effectively.

“We seek a binding commitment to the independence of the National Institute for Health Protection and public health professionals and their vital ability to speak truth to power and to the public at a national, regional and local level.

Finally, the letter seeks commitments from the health secretary that jobs, skills and capacity will be protected, there will be no compulsory redundancies, and that staff will be free to move from PHE into the new body with protected terms of employment.

Prospect General Secretary Mike Clancy said:

“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.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic which is having a devastating effect on the economy and the nation’s health and instead of dealing with it the government is abolishing the very body responsible for public health. At best this is likely to distract hard-working and highly qualified personnel from their vital work. At worst it risks a significant gap in the ability of our country to manage the pandemic.

“We need assurances from the health secretary that NIHP will be given the resources it needs to do the job, that workers in PHE will be able to move over without detriment to terms, and that the new body will be fully operational and able to fulfil its function without bias and without an impact on its ability to keep us safe.”

Signatories to the letter are: Prospect, British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing, Unison, Unite, PCS, FDA, British Dental Association, Federation of Clinical Scientists, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, and Managers in Partnership.