Vital that government grasps the scale of the public health challenge ahead Health Foundation response to Health and Social Care Secretary’s announcement of new UK Health Security Agency

24 March 2021

Responding to the Health and Social Care Secretary’s announcement today of a new UK Health Security Agency to lead the response to future health threats, Jo Bibby, Director of Health at the Health Foundation, said:

‘Today Matt Hancock outlined plans to protect the country’s health from infectious disease and other hazards, following his announcement last August that Public Health England would be replaced. But this is only a job half done – we are still awaiting details of the government’s plans for the other main part of Public Health England’s function, improving health.  

‘The pandemic has exposed stark differences in health that are largely avoidable but have contributed to higher mortality from COVID-19 among some of the most vulnerable in our society. The case has now surely been made for improving the population’s underlying health to ensure greater resilience against viruses like COVID-19. But this means getting far more serious about tackling the major and avoidable health issues facing the country including rising obesity, mental ill health and the growing gap between the health of the richest and poorest. 

‘While the focus now is on organising to make sure the country can respond better to a future pandemic, much more important in the long run is making sure that Public Health England’s existing function to improve the health of the population is strengthened, and commands more political focus and investment.  

‘The funding needed to improve people’s overall health across England is a tiny cost in comparison to what is being spent on responding to the pandemic. But there was notably no long-term commitment to public health funding in the recent Budget, despite this year’s public health grant allocations representing a 24% cut in real terms per capita funding compared to 2015/16 – equivalent to £1bn.

'Matt Hancock has said today that ‘levelling up health outcomes is the most important levelling up of all’ but we now need action to back up these words.'

Media contact

Simon Perry
Simon.Perry@health.org.uk
020 7257 2093

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