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Dido Harding at a Downing Street Briefing, Photo: Number 10 Flickr / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, linked at bottom of article

Dido Harding at a Downing Street Briefing, Photo: Number 10 Flickr / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, linked at bottom of article

Scrapping PHE for a new system that will be led by Baroness Harding has shown the Tories to be craven and corrupt, argues Caitlin Southern

The government announcement that Public Health England (PHE) is to be scrapped owing to a poor performance in handling the coronavirus pandemic has been met with widespread incredulity. It appears that once again Boris Johnson and his cabinet are blaming everyone else for their own mistakes, rather than anyone in government admitting that the handling of the pandemic has been absolutely disgraceful and resigning.They are once again battening down the hatches and pushing through unwarranted changes that will be to the detriment of public health but will line the pockets of the heads of the private sector companies being contracted to provide services, some of whom have personal links to ministers that constitute a conflict of interest.

The decision to both remove the current health body and replace it with one overseen by Baroness Harding, who has a proven record of failures yet is vigorously defended by ministers,seems to be yet another way to quicken the pace of privatisation of government enterprises as she is no friend of the public sector. The choice to hand such a person an enormous amount of power over an institution that she would happily dismantle can only be seen as an attack on the sector and an indication of the direction in which this government is travelling.

The uncertainty caused by setting up a new organisation could well be catastrophic for services reliant on PHE advice as they could well be without clear guidance for the foreseeable future. The newly announced National Institute for Health Protection will not be fully operational for months and according to health secretary Matt Hancock the new body is to focus on ‘infectious diseases and external health threats’, a much narrower area than is currently managed by PHE which includes factors such as child poverty and cancer screening.

The Tory government are using the cover of a national emergency to shirk their responsibility to combat a wide range of issues affecting the health of the nation.They are seeking to re-establish the narrative that problems affecting individuals are the fault of those people rather than the decisions that they are forced to make in a society that is fundamentally geared towards short-term profitability rather than genuine wellbeing.Once again the government are seeking to undermine efforts to combat the underlying structural problems that have led to such an atrocious death toll from both coronavirus and austerity.

By rushing through huge changes that will increase the power of the private sector the government is again demonstrating their contempt for the public and the services that we rely on. Doing so now, when there is limited public accountability, shows that despite everything they fear the backlash that this will create but are ideologically committed to carrying out their ruthlessly destructive agenda.

The brazen corruption of this government knows no bounds as they have repeatedly bailed out companies that should have failed under the weight of their cumulative incompetence with lucrative contracts. The money that could have been spent on equipping local public health teams to fight the pandemic and the issues that have exacerbated the death toll has been wasted on piecemeal provisions that have been less than effective.

 In scrapping PHE in favour of what will be a heavily privatised new system this government has shown themselves to be both craven and corrupt, unable either to face the consequences of their actions or resist the lure of using the public purse to feather their own nests while causing untold damage to the people they are supposed to be safeguarding.

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