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What exactly is Public Health England?

4 years ago

What exactly is Public Health England?

Public Health England, set up seven years ago in 2013, is expected to be axed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.


Public Health England is expected to be axed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

But what is the purpose of the organisation? Here are the answers to some questions about the arms-length body.

Matt Hancock

What is Public Health England (PHE)?

Public Health England is one of the organisations established in April 2013 under controversial health reforms driven by former health secretary Lord Lansley.

Its aim is to “protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities”.

What does it do?

The organisation has a wide range of responsibilities ranging from protecting the nation from public health hazards, preparing for and responding to public health emergencies, supporting local organisations to carry out screening and immunisation programmes, reducing health inequalities, and encouraging the public to lead healthier lifestyles.

Some have argued that its scope is too wide.

What is its budget?

Commentators have said that the organisation has faced “years of underfunding”.

Its annual accounts for 2018/19 show that its net cost to the taxpayer is £287 million.

Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie (Pic Joe Giddens)

How many employees does it have?

PHE employs 5,500 full-time equivalent staff, mostly scientists, researchers and public health professionals.

Who is in charge?

Since it was established it has only had one chief executive – Duncan Selbie.

Unlike other health bodies such as NHS England, NHS Improvement and the Care Quality Commission, Public Health England has always been an “executive agency” of the Department of Health and Social Care.

On PHE’s “executive agency” status, NHS Providers has previously said: “This gives ministers direct control of its activities. So, whilst it might be convenient to seek to blame PHE’s leadership team, it is important that the Government reflect on its responsibilities as well.”

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