Matt Hancock hints at PHE reform during evidence to MPs

Support us and go ad-free

Matt Hancock gave the strongest indication yet that Public Health England (PHE) would be reformed, saying it was not set up to be an organisation “ready to go to mass national scale”.

The health secretary praised PHE for being a “really good” scientific organisation, but said that a standing capability was needed.

He made the comments as he gave evidence at the Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday.

Hancock said: “We need a standing capability, right, we need a public health agency that isn’t only brilliant at science, but also is ready to mass scale very, very quickly.

“PHE was designed as a scientific organisation, and it is really good as a scientific organisation, and remains so, and has some of the best public health scientists in the world in PHE.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

“The challenge that it found was it was not set up to be an organisation ready to go to mass national scale and we didn’t go into this crisis with that mass of testing capability.

“In that we were like almost every other country in the world. Germany was the exception in this space rather than the norm, and some of the far eastern countries.

He added: “We built the scale outside PHE to make sure that we have the high quality science and we had the scale.”

In recent weeks prime minister Boris Johnson has also suggested he would examine reforming the way PHE is run.

When asked if he was in the process of reforming PHE, Hancock told MPs “there’ll be a time for that”, but that his priority was controlling the virus and preparing for winter.

He also told the committee that in its response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic the government took the best decisions it could with what information was available at the time.

Asked by committee chair Greg Clark if it was his view that all the right decisions had been taken at the right time, Hancock replied: “It’s my view that we took the best decisions that we could, with the information that we had, at the time.

“And that people worked in the best possible interests of trying to tackle the pandemic.

“Now hindsight in a wonderful thing, it’s also a very important part of learning lessons from a crisis like this, so I’m absolutely sure that there’s lessons that we can learn through this process.

“And largely because that will build on lessons that we have been learning all the way through.”

Hancock further told MPs that the government’s Cobra committee is no longer in charge of the UK’s coronavirus response, with Covid-19 committees now set up inside Whitehall to make decisions.

The MPs also questioned the health secretary about the prospect of a vaccine in the UK.

He told them that the “rate-limiting factor” on delivery of a vaccine is its manufacture.

Hancock told the committee he could not promise to “play Santa” on a vaccine being available by Christmas.

During the evidence session, Conservative MP Katherine Fletcher referred to Professor Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the team developing the vaccine at the University of Oxford, and asked Hancock: “Are we going to have a vaccine for Christmas?”

He replied: “Well I’m an optimist in life Katherine, and on the best case scenario, the answer is yes.

“And my job is not to second guess whether we will or not, and vaccines are an uncertain science and we need to be cautious, and we need to be careful.”

“We’re working very hard on this but I can’t promise to play Santa,” Hancock said.

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. Hancock also said the one-in-four of us who will refuse a Covid vaccine or are undecided about it are conspiracy theorists. That’s fifteen million of us, but surely such a huge number becomes a conspiracy of his own? In which case there are now fifteen million and one of us. Thanks to him we’re growing.

      But seriously, you can’t just call fifteen million who disagree with you conspiracy theorists – fifteen you could, and maybe fifteen hundred – but not fifteen million. That figure has a vastly different context; it’s not about believing a conspiracy but about not believing their lies.

    2. “The challenge that it found was it was not set up to be an organisation ready to go to mass national scale ” – surely he is referring to the current Government. Is there a PHS or PHW? Surely PHE should be PHUK, so the headline should read Hancock for new look PHUK!

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.