Ministers have been accused of making Public Health England (PHE) a scapegoat by scrapping the body for alleged failures in the testing and tracing of coronavirus.
Health secretary Matt Hancock announced that PHE’s pandemic response will merge with NHS Test and Trace to immediately form a new body, the National Institute for Health Protection.
The new organisation will support directors of public health and local authorities on the frontline of the COVID-19 response and report to the health secretary.
Mr Hancock said: ‘To give ourselves the best chance of beating this virus once and for all – and of spotting and being ready to respond to other health threats, now and in the future - we are creating a brand new organisation to provide a new approach to public health protection and resilience.
'The National Institute for Health Protection will bring together the expertise of PHE with the enormous response capabilities of NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre to put us in the best possible position for the next stage of the fight against COVID-19 and for the long-term.’
But chief executive of The King’s Fund charity, Richard Murray, said: ‘PHE appears to have been found guilty without a trial.
'It is unclear what problem government is hoping to solve by carving up PHE and redistributing its responsibilities.
'Undoubtedly, there are questions to be answered about England’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, but the middle of a pandemic is not the time to dismantle England’s public health agency.’
Chief executive of the Nuffield Trust think-tank, Nigel Edwards, added: ‘The Government risks making a major misstep by dismantling its own public health agency at such a crucial time, creating a huge distraction for staff who should be dedicating themselves to the next stage of the pandemic.’
Chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said: ‘Years of underfunding for PHE and public health work more widely has resulted in the UK not being properly prepared to tackle a pandemic such as COVID-19.’