The Government will set up a new Office for Health Promotion in England to take over Public Health England’s responsibility for improving public health, it has announced.
This comes as health secretary Matt Hancock recently said that PHE will be incorporated into a new body – the UK Health Security Agency – along with NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre from April.
While the UKSHA will protect the population from future health threats and continue tackling Covid, the new Office for Health Promotion will help fight obesity, improve mental health and promote exercise, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
The new Office will take over these health improvement functions by the Autumn, and will, unlike PHE, sit within the DHSC, meaning the yet-to-be-recruited lead will report to the health secretary and chief medical officer, Chris Whitty.
The DHSC said it will aim to ‘systematically tackle the top preventable risk factors causing death and ill health in the UK’ through designing, implementing and tracking the delivery of national policy’.
It added that its ‘top priority’ will be preventing avoidable illness and to protect and ‘level up’ the health of the nation, as England moves out of lockdown.
Responding to the announcement, Dr Richard Jarvis, co-chair of the BMA Public Health Medicine committee said creating the new office within a cross-government ministerial board ‘may signal the type of joined-up working needed to tackle’ health inequalities such as obesity and mental health, adding the BMA has been campaigning for reduced fragmentation in public health.
However, he added: ‘There are also still serious concerns about the centralising of public health within the Department of Health.
‘If we are to address serious public health problems such as obesity and mental health and truly ‘level up’ the nation’s health, we need to see a properly funded and co-ordinated public health system which, crucially, has the organisational independence to speak out when needed to improve and protect the health of the population.’
Health secretary Matt Hancock originally announced plans to replace PHE with a new health protection body last summer.