UK plans new specialist pandemic response health institute: Report
The UK government is planning to replace Public Health England (PHE) with a new specialist pandemic response institute based on a German model in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a media report on Sunday. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to announce a merger of the pandemic response work of PHE, an executive agency sponsored by the government’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and the National Health Service (NHS) Test and Trace scheme to create the National Institute for Health Protection, the Sunday Telegraph’ reported.
The institute will be modelled on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, which played a central role in the country’s C-19 response, publishing daily situation reports that log new outbreaks, testing capacity and the current burden on the health system. The new UK unit on those lines is expected to be in place by September, ahead of a feared second wave of the deadly coronavirus which has claimed over 41,000 lives.
“We want to bring together the science and the scale in one new body so we can do all we can to stop a second coronavirus spike this autumn, a senior minister was quoted as saying. “The National Institute for Health Protection’s goal will be simple: to ensure that Britain is one of the best equipped countries in the world to fight the pandemic,” the minister said. The institute’s new chief executive will report both to ministers at the Department of Health and Social Care and to Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, giving the government direct control over its response to pandemics.
The overhaul comes after repeated reports that ministers were not entirely happy with the way PHE dealt with the coronavirus crisis. The government recently had to adopt a new way of counting daily deaths from COVID-19 after concerns were raised that the method used by PHE officials overstated them. In reference to ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ report on a new institute, a DHSC spokesperson said that PHE has played an integral role in the UK’s national response to an unprecedented global pandemic.
“We have always been clear that we must learn the right lessons from this crisis to ensure that we are in the strongest possible position, both as we continue to deal with COVID-19 and to respond to any future public health threat,” the spokesperson said. According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the number of confirmed UK cases has hit 317,379, while the total number of deaths is 41,361, the Telegraph reported.