Motion to Regret
That this House regrets that the Public Health England (Dissolution) (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/974) have been introduced further to (1) the dissolution of Public Health England, and (2) the establishment of the UK Health Security Agency, via secondary legislation and without proper consultation or scrutiny.
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
My Lords, this regret Motion raises concerns about the lack of consultational scrutiny of the regulations introduced by secondary legislation associated with the dissolution of Public Health England and the establishment of the UK Health Security Agency. There is an important background to bringing this regret Motion before your Lordships’ House. The regulations are marked out by a lack of consultation and stakeholder engagement, the creation of a culture of blame for the shortcomings of government, confusion, and ongoing concerns about how the new arrangements will operate and be held to account.
In looking at how this came about, it is difficult to keep up with events, but, for the benefit of this debate, I will attempt to do so. In August 2020, during the parliamentary Recess, the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, announced in a press release that the Government were forming a new organisation, the National Institute for Health Protection, bringing together the existing health protection responsibilities discharged by Public Health England with the new capabilities of NHS Test and Trace, including the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
The press release advised that the new organisation was to be operational from 2021 and led by the noble Baroness, Lady Harding of Winscombe, who was appointed as the agency’s interim executive chair. This was followed by a Written Statement in March 2021, in which Matt Hancock announced the formal establishment of the UK Health Security Agency, which was previously the aforementioned National Institute for Health Protection, to take effect from 1 April 2021 and to be led by Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England.
Later in the year, on 1 October 2021, the Government announced the launch of the UK Health Security Agency in a press release. On the same day, the Government also announced the launch of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, to be led by the incoming Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England. Confusion and obfuscation reigned throughout all of this, with the 2021 regulations—the subject of this regret Motion—being laid before both Houses of Parliament on 3 September 2021 and coming into force on 1 October 2021, as an instrument under the “made negative” procedure.
The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee noted in a report published on 16 September 2021that the regulations were “an instrument of interest”, due to the regulations making consequential changes to legislation that had referenced Public Health England. While Parliament was denied scrutiny and consultation was conspicuous by its absence, reaction to the dissolution of Public Health England was far from positive, with more than 70 health organisations, including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the Faculty of Public Health, signing a joint letter.
The signatories were “deeply concerned” that the plans paid
“insufficient attention to the vital health improvement and wider functions of Public Health England”,
including necessary measures to target smoking, obesity and alcohol and to improve mental health. The signatories argued that it was a “false choice” to
“neglect vital health improvement measures”
to tackle Covid-19. I reflect that this is an observation repeatedly pursued in debates and Questions in your Lordships’ House.
Alexis Paton, chair of the Committee on Ethical Issues in Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians, argued that the decision to dissolve Public Health England was an attempt by the Government to save global face as a result of their response to the pandemic. Ms Paton stated that Public Health England had nearly 60 targeted programmes to improve health and well-being across the population, and that the loss of any of these services was too high a cost to pay. At the same time, the chair of the British Medical Association’s ruling council, Dr Nagpaul, queried the timing of this decision, questioning whether it was the right time for a major restructure, given the very immediate need to respond to the pandemic. Clearly, it was not the right time. The King’s Fund also stated that the Government’s decision to replace Public Health England with two new bodies would
“increase complexity locally and nationally”,
and indeed this is the case. There were also warnings that the restructuring of Public Health England would sap morale and focus and should have waited until the end of the pandemic.
I am grateful to the BMA for its views on this matter, including that the solution was not to reorganise in the middle of a pandemic but instead to restore funding and capacity, including increased support to local public health services. The BMA observes that previous reorganisations of public health services have not improved public health provision or the experience of the workforce, and that health inequalities have in fact worsened since the last reorganisations—even more so during the pandemic. Concerningly, the BMA also reports that morale is low, with widespread fatigue and burnout, while staff have also experienced inadequate consultation on the restructuring, despite the fact that they would have had so much to offer.
In a survey of public health doctors at the beginning of the year, over 60% said that they believed that the new form of organisation would actually worsen doctors’ ability to respond to public health challenges. Nearly two-thirds said that they were not confident that they would be able to contribute to the design of the new system, and almost three-quarters of respondents to a survey said that they had no confidence that the successor organisation to Public Health England would be sufficiently independent or able to speak truth to power. This is a serious charge sheet from those who work in the field and seek to improve the health of the nation by prevention rather than cure. I put it to the Minister that in the face of all this, it is hard to see how the new bodies could be independent or effective. They are not set up in statute and were created without parliamentary scrutiny or approval. I will be listening closely to the Minister’s response to the substance of this regret Motion. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to take the opportunity of this debate, arising from the dissolution of Public Health England, to pay tribute to PHE and its chief executive, Duncan Selbie. I also want to ask the Minister to tell us more about the Government’s intentions regarding public health, a matter that certainly deserves consultation, as my noble friend Lady Merron has insisted, and more than the perfunctory scrutiny—or non-scrutiny—normally given to a statutory instrument.
With other parliamentary colleagues—including a good number from your Lordships’ House—in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, I worked for some years with Mr Selbie and others in his team at PHE. At a time when the Department of Health, NHS England and clinical orthodoxy were far from recognising the significance of the well-being agenda, social prescribing and the potential of the arts to support health and well-being, PHE was positive and far-sighted. During the three-year period of the inquiry which led to the publication of the APPG’s report, Creative Health, in 2017, PHE worked constructively and thoughtfully with us.
The three key messages in Creative Health, underpinned by evidence, were that the arts can help keep us well, aid our recovery and support longer lives better lived; help to meet major challenges facing health and social care, including ageing, long-term conditions, loneliness and mental health; and help to save money in the health service and social care. Duncan was one of a number of distinguished people, including Professor Sir Michael Marmot, who publicly endorsed the findings of Creative Health. He said:
“This is an impressive collection of evidence and practice for culture and health”.
The publication of Creative Health was, I think it is fair to say, a turning point in the recognition by the health establishment of the importance of social prescribing and the engagement of individual creativity in promoting health and well-being.
In a speech at the King’s Fund in November 2018, the then Health Secretary, the right honourable Matt Hancock, explicitly acknowledging the significance of the Creative Health report, said that from now on prevention must be fundamental to NHS strategy and social prescribing must be fundamental to prevention. He stressed the value of the arts and culture in social prescribing, and the NHS Long Term Plan of 2019 reaffirmed the centrality of prevention. Mr Hancock established the National Academy for Social Prescribing later in 2019.
Much has happened since then. While I can well understand that the new Secretary of State is preoccupied with Covid-19, the clinical backlog that Covid has so much worsened and the pressures on the NHS workforce, I would ask the Minister to reaffirm that the Government’s commitment to their prevention strategy is not diminished and that they continue to recognise the importance of personalised health and of the arts and culture in contributing to health and well-being.
I hope the Minister will also pay tribute to Duncan Selbie and PHE. When it was announced that PHE was to be abolished, I was shocked. It was hard not to believe that PHE institutionally and Duncan Selbie personally were being scapegoated for the Government’s own failures in the early stages of the pandemic. Of course, I wish the successor institutions well and look forward to working with them through the APPG and the National Centre for Creative Health. It is a shame, however, that Mr Selbie was cast aside.
I am concerned that the “build back better” plan envisages shifting the NHS towards prevention only as a long-term priority. However, integrated care systems surely offer an early opportunity for the NHS to work better with local authorities and the voluntary and community sector, including arts providers, on prevention. Will the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities be working with other government departments responsible for education, housing and employment in addressing the social determinants of health?
I hope we can be reassured this evening that the Government recognise their error in having reduced the public health grant by no less than 24% per head over the last six years, with terribly damaging consequences, and that the restructuring that has now occurred is intended to provide more, rather than less, support for public health.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. I very much look forward to the day when he will be able to rejoin us here on the Floor of the House. He has made an immense contribution during his parliamentary life, both in the other place and here, and I associate myself with and endorse all his comments about the arts and health. But I wanted to make another, more parliamentary point.
I think it is, frankly, disgraceful that things are done by secondary legislation that should be done by primary legislation. I have addressed the House on this subject many times in a variety of contexts. I deplore the proliferation of Christmas tree Bills, Henry VIII clauses and all the rest of it. But to bring about major changes in our health service without the opportunity for adequate and proper scrutiny in this House and the other place shows a contempt for Parliament that I am afraid is becoming a hallmark of the present Government.
I do, of course, entirely except from any criticism my noble friend who will reply to this debate. He is a new Minister and is making a brave start. He has the good will of all of us and we genuinely wish him well, wherever we sit in the House. I am delighted to see my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, nodding vigorous assent. But what my noble friend can do, and what I ask him to do, is take back to his ministerial colleagues a growing sense of unease and disquiet at the way in which Parliament—to which the Government, whatever their complexion, should always be accountable and answerable—is being sidelined time and again.
During the period of the pandemic we have had far too much retrospective legislation—a brief debate after certain things have come into force—but to have no proper discussion of the issues we are touching on tonight, which are the subject of an entirely justifiable regret Motion, is appalling. We have had enough of this. It is something up with which we should not put for much longer. I hope my noble friend will convey this message. It is a fairly empty House, but I think I speak for a lot of those who are not here in deploring this tendency. I trust my noble friend will talk to the Secretary of State and others and say that this must not happen again.
My Lords, I will intervene briefly to support my noble friend’s Motion to Regret. She has outlined the government by press release approach that has been taken. I find myself in considerable agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. In fact, I remember him reacting last week or the week before to a Statement that had in its title on the annunciator “Announcement to the media”. The noble Lord quite rightly said that it is not the business of this House to have to debate something that has already been put out to the media. Ministers are supposed to come to the Dispatch Box and give the House the information directly.
I entirely agree on the issue of secondary legislation as a way of making progress rather than primary legislation. Although there are difficulties with primary legislation—look at the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is a mega Bill if ever there was one, so there are disadvantages even for large Bills—in general I support my noble friend’s Motion to Regret. Although this is not a matter for a vote, I hope the Minister will take back something of the cross-party unease expressed by the noble Lord, with which I find myself in considerable agreement.
My Lords, I echo my noble friend Lord Howarth’s tribute to Mr Duncan Selbie, the former chief executive of Public Health England. He is a very fine public servant who led PHE with great skill and aplomb over a number of years. I feel very sad indeed that his career ended in the way it did. Shame on Ministers who allowed this to happen.
I also have to say shame on Ministers for the way in which Parliament has been bypassed in relation to these crucial decisions about the future of our national public health arrangements. Were it not for the fact that staff had to be transferred, there would be no parliamentary debate or scrutiny whatever about these important changes.
Why did it happen? It would seem to me that it was simply a panicked reaction which was merely a front for Ministers’ own mistakes, and the attempt by Mr Hancock and his fellow Ministers to shift blame for their own inadequate leadership in responding to the pandemic is really all too characteristic of the way the Government approached it. It was dishonest because Ministers pretended that PHE was an independent body that had its own life, but it did not. I know that PHE’s record is not without criticism, but the fact is that it was fully part of the Department of Health. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, legislated for that and deliberately wanted to make it like that, and for Ministers to try to shift the blame from them to a group of officials —and they are officials—was simply not acceptable.
My fear is that the new arrangements are being set up in the same way, with the same uncertainties about who is actually accountable for what they do. The UKHSA is an executive agency sponsored by the department, so it is the same category of organisation as Public Health England, which was described on the Government’s website as
“an executive agency with operational autonomy.”
It is noticeable that, on 13 July, the Government published a document setting out UKHSA’s remit and priorities, in the form of a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, to Dr Jenny Harries, the UKHSA’s chief executive. It stated that:
“UKHSA is accountable to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Innovation”,
which I think means to the Minister, but unlike PHE, the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, made no reference to UKHSA having operational independence from the Government. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, whether that omission was deliberate.
I have the same question about the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. We are not debating that tonight, but it comes within the package of new measures that are being brought in. This is not, I understand, an executive agency but is described on the Government’s website as “a high-profile group”. The website does state that
“OHID is part of the Department of Health”,
So, again, there is no pretence at independence.
We are at risk of repeating the same mistakes that occurred with PHE. Ministers proclaim these new bodies, they are given a veneer of independence, but as soon as something goes wrong, or Ministers do not like the messages—and they often do not like the public health messages these bodies give out—Ministers jump in and attempt to micromanage. Accountability is confused, reporting lines are blurred, the public are certainly confused and Parliament is unable to scrutinise them effectively because they come within the Minister’s responsibilities as part of the department.
Of course, the ultimate test of these arrangements is how they will work if another dreadful pandemic hits us, or in relation to how we will improve the overall health of the people of this nation. Clearly, the jury is out on that—we do not know—but I would have more confidence if these bodies were more independent and subject to much greater parliamentary scrutiny than they are apparently going to be.
My Lords, it was not my intention to speak in this debate—I wanted to come and listen to it—but I am prompted by a number of contributions just to say one or two things in response to the debate and before my noble friend has a chance to reply. I share with my noble friend Lord Cormack his support for my noble friend in taking on these responsibilities, and nothing I have to say reflects on his role in this. Indeed, I think it has been handed on to the Secretary of State as well, so in a sense we have a new team and I hope they will think about things sometimes in new ways.
I want to make a few, very simple points. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is absolutely right: Public Health England was an executive agency. It worked for the department. In so far as it had operational autonomy, that was not in the legislation; it was a choice made by Ministers. At any stage, as was the case during the Covid crisis, Ministers had all the powers they required in relation both to Public Health England and to the NHS under the emergency legislation.
Let us remember that this House went through the 2012 Act in scrupulous—I might almost say excruciating —detail. It arrived at a conclusion that NHS England should be independent and Public Health England an executive agency. Notwithstanding certain measures put into the legislation to make sure that Public Health England would be more transparent and accountable, that balance was struck not least because I and my colleagues on behalf of the Government said, “We want the NHS to be seen to be independent. We want Ministers to take personal responsibility for public health.”
The noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, referred to one or two things that happened afterwards. I want to share in thanking Duncan Selbie for what he achieved. I want to make it absolutely clear that I understand that Ministers subsequent to the establishment of Public Health England did not give to public health the resources, either for PHE itself or for local government with its responsibilities, that were intended back in 2010-12 under the coalition Government. That did not happen.
Let us remember that, at the beginning of 2020, the King’s Fund produced a report saying that it thought that the public health reforms had worked but they had not been sufficiently funded. Internationally, Public Health England was regarded as being as prepared for a pandemic as virtually any other country in the world. That things fell down needs to be thoroughly examined by an inquiry. An inquiry has not even begun, yet we are already at the point where people have made judgments, reached conclusions and found scapegoats. Heads and deputy heads have rolled.
We are not going about this in the right way. I want Ministers in due course to think again in the light of the report of that inquiry about what constitutes the right mechanism for managing their public health responsibilities. They need an organisation that understands public health in its entirety. How many of us think that the pandemic was unrelated to the extent of non-communicable diseases in this country, to the extent of disparities in this country and to extent of the obesity epidemic that we suffered?
We have so many interconnections between inequalities and public health problems, and our resilience against communicable diseases, that we should never think of managing public health in separate, siloed organisations again, but that is exactly what the Government are doing, without, frankly, having thoroughly understood what happened in in 2020 and 2021. I hope that they will go back and say, “Prevention is not the job of the NHS. Prevention is the job of the Government.” Public Health England was the organisation whose job it was to do that. If it was not strong enough in 2020 to do it, Ministers might look at what they did in the preceding years that might have undermined that role and think carefully about how they should take on the responsibility of building an integrated and fully functioning public health organisation for this country in the future, certainly not simply fragment it.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
From the Liberal Democrat Benches, we support the Motion of Regret in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, are absolutely correct that this House does not like the fact that once again the Government have chosen to use secondary legislation to make major changes to the way the Government manage their business—in this case, public health.
The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, has set out the chaos of a series of announcements from August last year, followed by a variety of procedures and changes when the Government kept getting things wrong. I absolutely support her concerns, and, as have many other speakers, I start from the position that major reorganisations during a global pandemic are unsound and unhelpful, not just to dealing with the pandemic but to the performance of any successor bodies, including the UK Health Security Agency and the Office for Health Promotion and Disparities, with disparity work continuing in NHS England. I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and others on the work of all the PHE staff, and Duncan Selbie in particular.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, reminded us, PHE was created in the coalition Government by him and Paul Burstow, the then Lib Dem Minister, to draw together the expertise on public health that had been so fragmented in many different places and bodies, none of which connected. It was done to support the coalition Government’s key aim to
“protect and improve the nation’s health”,
improving the health of the poorest fastest. That remains an admirable aim. After 2015, the subsequent Government cut its funding substantially, setting up Public Health England to fail.
PHE was to support the new systems of public health locally, whether the teams of directors of public health, other areas of public health such as CCGs or the work carried out by local authorities. PHE also did some key work on the public health burden of alcohol, and it certainly played its part in the global health response to Ebola—both significant pieces of work—before its funding was severely cut.
However, the pandemic has exposed a trait, all too familiar in Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care, of placing blame elsewhere—in this case, on PHE. Anyone who was working out in the field from March 2020 onwards, whether CCGs, directors of public health, or local authority resilience forums, had to fight to get data and information from the centre. The Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, became familiar with weekly questions from your Lordships asking when the department and PHE would start to treat local bodies on the ground as partners. It took many months for that data to come through. We know where it was blocked; it was not blocked by PHE.
The new body, the UK Health Security Agency, seems to have got off to a somewhat mixed start—no surprise; we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Ten days ago, Sir David Norgrove, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, said that it had published a misleading Covid-19 vaccination statement that had been used by anti-vaxxers to cast doubt on the effectiveness of vaccines. He said, at an event organised by University College London:
“Those numbers were misleading and wrong and we’ve made it very clear to UKHSA. I’m lost for words at the willingness to publish a table that led people to believe that, with a footnote that was too weak.”
Stian Westlake, chief executive of the Royal Statistical Society, called on UKHSA to
“turn the volume up to 11 on the corrections”.
This is particularly disappointing because, as we discussed yesterday in your Lordships’ House in relation to the vaccines Statement, anti-vaxxers are actively disrupting young people and those in key roles, such as care homes, from coming forward for their vaccines. But there are other worrying signs that these changes have been implemented too quickly. The UKHSA has been issuing muddled messages. Just one example will serve.
In September, it issued a statement about the new rules and guidance for those with underlying conditions that was quoted by the Department for Education in relation to return to schools and by the Health and Safety Executive in relation to whether it was safe for people to return to work. This was at the same time as shielding formally came to an end. Worryingly, UKHSA conflated vulnerable people with an underlying condition with the clinically extremely vulnerable, causing not just anger but real confusion for many. Worse, the advice for the CEV, as the Minister well knows, was very different, because, on 17 September, Sajid Javid issued a personal letter to all clinically extremely vulnerable, telling them completely different advice.
These two examples could just be one-off errors, but I fear that they are absolutely symptomatic of the hurried reorganisation of public health by this Government, at exactly the time when all staff were still trying to manage the Covid-19 pandemic because, as the Minister reminded us yesterday, it is absolutely not over yet. Can the Minister say what steps are being taken to ensure that public statements and statistics bear some relation to reality and that, when a particularly vulnerable group is given misleading advice, there is a correction? Finally, will the Minister take back from these Benches the message that secondary legislation in a hurry is not what the House wants to see?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for securing this important debate on secondary legislation in relation to the Government’s public health reforms, and also for this opportunity to explain why they were made, and the context.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the country has faced its greatest health and economic challenge for decades. The pandemic has highlighted the immense economic, societal and personal costs that ill health can bring, particularly to the most vulnerable. It has also identified weaknesses in our public health system. That is why, in August 2020, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced the Government’s intention to reform the public health system in England. Since that announcement, we have worked to transform our national health protection capabilities to put prevention of ill health and the tackling of health inequalities at the heart of government and to more deeply embed prevention and health improvement expertise across local and national government and the National Health Service. These reforms are driven by lessons learned from the pandemic and by the need to make sure that we have a public health system fit for the future.
From 1 October this year, a new public health landscape was established, and Public Health England was closed. The health protection capabilities of Public Health England, the at-scale operational capacity of NHS Test and Trace, and the analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre have been brought together into the new UK Health Security Agency to lead the response to Covid so that we now have an organisation dedicated solely to identifying, preventing and managing threats to health. As some noble Lords have acknowledged, the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities has been created in the Department of Health and Social Care, and the OHID will help our health system to go further in promoting good health and tackling the top preventable risk factors for poor health and disparities.
One noble Lord raised the issue of prevention and cure. One of the conversations I have had with many health experts in my short time in this job has been about how we make sure that we save more money and lives and achieve better health by focusing on prevention rather than, necessarily, cure. I know that noble Lords will remember the debate we had the other day on obesity and what is being done by the OHID there. Now, working with a new cross-government Cabinet committee for health promotion, we will drive and support the whole of government to go further in improving health and tackling health disparities. Alongside this, we have strengthened NHS England’s focus on prevention and population health, transferring to it important national capabilities that will help drive and support improved health as a priority for the whole NHS. Important national disease registries have also moved to NHS Digital.
On the recently laid secondary legislation and the question of ensuring that there is consultation and scrutiny, the amendments themselves do not give effect to the establishment of the UK Health Security Agency, or OHID, or the dissolution of PHE. Public Health England and the UK Health Security Agency are executive agencies of the Department of Health and Social Care, and NHS Test and Trace was part of the department. The restructuring of public health functions in England was therefore an administrative process. The regulations in question were made and laid in accordance with the negative resolution procedure. They make minor consequential amendments to existing legislation, to ensure that the statute book accurately reflects the administrative changes that have taken place. They are not the vehicle for implementing the substance of our public health reforms. There will be further regulations containing references to Public Health England, which need to be updated. I assure noble Lords that they will be amended in accordance with the affirmative resolution procedure and will be debated in Parliament.
I turn now to some of the individual points made. On engagement with stakeholders, since the reforms were announced, a senior stakeholder advisory group was established to advise the Department of Health and Social Care on the best arrangements for national prevention and health improvement functions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for pointing out that praise for Public Health England was not universal. Many will have read articles from health experts, probably the most damning of which was You Had One Job. Questions had to be asked, but we looked at the stakeholder advisory group—its membership and terms of reference are published—and the group included public health, the third sector, think tanks, the health service, local government and other expertise. It worked quickly and we are grateful to all who contributed. Throughout the reform programme, we actively supported and welcomed views from key stakeholders across the spectrum of public health.
We have engaged quite widely, commensurate with the need to make quick progress and not foster a lingering uncertainty for staff, delivery partners and stakeholders. A Written Ministerial Statement was made in March, when we formally established the UK Health Security Agency from 1 April. We also published our evolved proposals in March, including the establishment of what is now OHID, and we invited views on a number of questions to support the successful implementation of the reforms.
Going forward, there is a new cross-government Cabinet committee for health promotion. This means that, across government, we will drive forward action on the wider determinants of health, ensuring that health is a shared outcome and priority. We will make sure that we work across government in a joined-up way.
Also, the creation of OHID—with the “D” for disparities—makes sure that, right at the centre of public health, we are looking at inequalities in the system. Far too often across this country, public health has been seen as the preserve of the privileged white middle class, as opposed to poorer communities. It is important that we make sure that this is no longer the preserve of the privileged white middle class, but of the working class, other people and immigrant communities, who understand some of these disparities in their communities.
Our reforms are explicitly designed to ensure that the different dimensions of public health have the dedicated national attention that each threat faces. The UK Health Security Agency focuses on health security; the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, on better health and tackling these health disparities; NHS England, on delivery of NHS services to protect and improve health; and NHS Digital, on securing our gold-standard disease registers.
This year, we increased the local authority public health grant and allocated over £100 million of additional funding to local authorities. We are also investing £500 million over the spending review period to improve the Start4Life offer, and we have confirmed additional investment of £300 million to help people to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Rather than proposing a one size fits all, we are also looking at pilot projects. We look at this as a process of discovery; we all have to admit that we do not have infinite knowledge and sometimes do not always foresee unintended consequences. By piloting projects and allowing the discovery process to take place, we can learn more.
In terms of the pandemic and future pandemics, the UK Health Security Agency’s sole purpose is to ensure the UK is protected from all future health threats, including pandemics, and to make sure we continuously assess our preparedness plans for infectious disease outbreaks. In future, critics can no longer say, “You had one job; why didn’t you do it?” We are focusing on health security.
We are hoping that the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will work on prevention across all parts of government, given the cross-cutting nature of public health, making health improvement and disparities a focus of government. We are looking at a number of projects and key Covid programmes, making sure that we build back better and that we learn from the issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked about independence and accountability. The public health system in government needs a trusted source of independent scientific advice on health improvement to support evidence-led national decision-making and a focus on health inequalities. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will continue to make available and publish public health advice, research, evidence and data analysis, as Public Health England did previously, through a newly recruited Deputy Chief Medical Officer. The Chief Medical Officer will provide professional leadership for the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, while Ministers will remain in charge of and responsible for policy decisions in that direction.
We hope that these reforms to the public health system that have been explained today will do that, and keep us safe and healthy into better times ahead. Vigilance, prevention and reform are the key words to keep us all safer and, I hope, improve the health of the nation, not only in certain communities but to tackle those disparities where they may have felt ignored in the past.
My Lords, this Motion has given an opportunity to put dissent and concern on the record, and we have heard that through voices from across the House. I am left thinking as a result of this debate that any reorganisation, particularly one such as the one we have discussed, would have greatly benefited from proper parliamentary scrutiny. I literally regret that this was not the case.
I am grateful to noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions and consideration. I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport in giving thanks and appreciation of Public Health England and the entire team, led by the chief executive as was, Duncan Selbie.
Improvement of the health of the nation and the equal chance to live a long, happy and healthy life is paramount. As my noble friend Lord Stansgate said, sidelining Parliament is not the way in which to tackle this advance. Similarly, my noble friend Lord Hunt highlighted the fact that there had been a shift of blame from Ministers to officials—which again, as we have heard in this House, cannot be an acceptable way forward. I hope that the Minister heard his noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who called for an inquiry and for Ministers to think again about the best way in which to manage public health responsibilities. I am sure that the Minister will listen to those words as well the others that we have heard today.
While I appreciate that the Minister has been left somewhat holding the baby on this one, I have heard what he has said. Although I am disappointed in many of the conclusions that he has drawn, I beg leave to withdraw.