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Public Health England is failing as a champion of public health, MPs say

The organisation ‘has yet to strike the right tone’ on tackling alcohol misuse, smoking and obesity

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Public Health England, which was set up to champion policies that will make the greatest difference to the nation’s health, has not developed to establish a set of clear priorities and is too close to the Government, a committee of MPs has said.

The Health Committee’s inquiry examined how Public Health England has set about establishing its policy priorities and programme of work. It also examined its relationship with the Department of Health and Public Health England. Concern was expressed in evidence received by the Committee that Public Health England has yet to demonstrate that it is sufficiently independent of Government.

Launching the report Public Health England, Health Committee Chair Stephen Dorrell MP said: "In April 2013 Public Health England was created to put public health at the heart of policy making but we are concerned that Public Health England has not yet found its voice.

"Tackling alcohol misuse, smoking and the crisis of obesity are fundamental to improving the nation’s health, but Public Health England has yet to strike the right tone when addressing these issues. Its public comments have often been faltering and uncertain when they should have been clear and unequivocal."

The Committee concluded in its report: “We are concerned that there is insufficient separation between Public Health England and the Department of Health. The Committee believes that … there is an urgent need for the relationship to be clarified and for Public Health England to demonstrate that it is genuinely able to ‘speak truth unto power’".

Mr Dorrell said: “Public Health England should not look to the Department or other parts of Government to prompt its research or, still less, to authorise its findings. Public Health England can only succeed if it is clear beyond doubt that its public statements and policy positions are not influenced by Government policy or political considerations."

Dr Mark Temple, Co-Chair of the BMA Public Health Medicine Committee, said:

“To speak out in the interests of the public's health, even when this implies criticism of the government, Public Health England needs to be fully independent. We share the Committee’s concerns about a lack of clarity around the specific roles and responsibilities of Public Health England and other bodies when responding to public health emergencies.”

He added that the BMA agreed with the Committee’s recommendations that all Directors of Public Health should have executive status, reporting directly to the chief executive of their local authority, and have the necessary specialist staff to carry out their work, and that Public Health England should report to parliament when it believes a local authority is not able to discharge its public health responsibilities properly.

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