Unions express “alarm” over lack of consultation in creation of new health body

Eleven unions and professional bodies representing workers in Public health England (PHE) have written to Health Secretary Matthew Hancock expressing “alarm” at the lack of consultation in the creation of new body the National Institute for Health Protection.

The letter says: “We are alarmed by the creation of the National Institute for Health Protection without properly consulting expert staff and without a clear plan for the future of large swathes of PHE.”

The letter warns that abolishing PHE and creating a whole new body at this time could distract from vital pandemic work. The letter seeks assurance that workers in PHE will be: “supported at this time and can focus on the vital public health work they are undertaking.”

The unions also ask for guarantees on funding and independence:

“We urge you to ensure that we have an adequately resourced national public health system (including laboratories) with sufficient capacity, resilience and access to data, research and analysis over the long‐term to address all domains of public health effectively.”

“We seek a binding commitment to the independence of the National Institute for Health Protection and public health professionals and their vital ability to speak truth to power and to the public at a national, regional and local level.”

Finally, the letter seeks commitments from the health secretary that jobs, skills and capacity will be protected, there will be no compulsory redundancies, and that staff will be free to move from PHE into the new body with protected terms of employment.

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “For eleven unions and professional bodies to come together in this way shows the strength of feeling about this change and the way it has been announced.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic which is having a devastating effect on the economy and the nation’s health and instead of dealing with it the government is abolishing the very body responsible for public health. At best this is likely to distract hard-working and highly qualified personnel from their vital work. At worst it risks a significant gap in the ability of our country to manage the pandemic.

“We need assurances from the health secretary that NIHP will be given the resources it needs to do the job, that workers in PHE will be able to move over without detriment to terms, and that the new body will be fully operational and able to fulfil its function without bias and without an impact on its ability to keep us safe.”

RCN director of nursing, policy and public affairs Susan Masters said: “The expertise and professionalism within the organisations being brought together are outstanding in their own right, and of critical national importance – especially at this time.

“It is vital that the government engages appropriately and plans effectively to ensure staff are supported and empowered, now and in the future. There needs to be investment in people and infrastructure, as well as the independence needed for NIHP to excel in its role, which will save lives and protect the public.

“There must be clarity about the future of PHE’s leadership role in the nursing profession, and where this will sit. Nurses work within a range of functions within PHE, doing vitally important work that must continue effectively.

“The government needs to address the issues we are raising comprehensively and urgently, and in a way that reassures both the staff directly affected, and all of us in the country, since we rely on their invaluable work.”

Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams said: “Serious questions need to be asked about the political decisions behind why PHE has been axed in this disgraceful fashion. It is an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care answerable to Matt Hancock and his ministerial team, in particular public health minister Jo Churchill (with ‘sponsorship of PHE’ in her portfolio).

“There has been a complete lack of consultation with expert stakeholders and the unions representing the staff about the future functions of PHE at a time when the country is still in the middle of a global pandemic. Such discussions should take place as a matter of urgency.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The decision to abolish PHE and set up the National Institute for Health Protection without consulting unions and considering the staff is another reckless move by a dangerously incompetent government.”

“In the midst of a global pandemic, it is vital the government commits to a properly resourced health system that is publicly owned and run for the public benefit.”

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