Public health england

The ‘long Covid’ time bomb: an interview with Tim Spector

It sometimes seems as if Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, was conjured up especially to be a walking, talking rebuke to Public Health England. Where PHE has been lumbering, slow to respond to the fast-moving virus, Spector has been nimble, quick to see opportunity and adapt. This time last year, as Boris was preoccupied with the defining question of his premiership — who could possibly have leaked a disobliging story about his girlfriend’s dog — Tim Spector was concocting a plan for how to collect data about Covid from around the country. His Covid Symptom Study app (CSS), a year old this week, has been a triumph. There


Public Health England’s obesity obsession

Few government agencies have had a worse pandemic than Public Health England (PHE) whose mission is ‘to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities.’ Criticisms levelled at PHE over the past 12 months include failing to expand diagnostic testing and contact tracing, discouraging the use of face masks, failing to share infection data with local authorities and overcounting the number of Covid deaths in England. It has also been slated for focusing too much on lifestyle choices at the expense of properly preparing for a pandemic. In 2018/19, some £220 million of the public health budget was spent on anti-obesity schemes – more than twice the budget

The reason coronavirus cases ‘tripled’ this weekend

The dramatic jump in UK coronavirus cases from 7,000 reported on Friday, to just under 13,000 on Saturday, to a fraction below 23,000 on Sunday is not a dire as it seems – though it is not good news. What has inflated the numbers for Sunday and Saturday are a staggering 15,841 cases where the specimens were taken between 25 September and 2 October. In other words, there was a serious lag between a swab being taken and the result appearing in the government’s official figures. The reason for the confidence-destroying lag was a glitch in two of Public Health England’s ‘legacy’ computer systems, which meant that data was not

What per cent of Covid deaths are directly from Covid?

Just how many people have died of Covid-19, as opposed to having died with the virus? It is a poignant question, especially after it was revealed that Public Health England had been counting a Covid death as anyone who died after testing positive for the virus, even if they swiftly recovered and went on to die of some other cause, like under a proverbial bus. A study by the health authorities in the Östergötland region of south-eastern Sweden aims to answer the question. The study looks at the cases of 122 people who have died in the region outside of a hospital setting – either at home or in accommodation

What does the evidence say on re-opening schools?

It is still far from clear whether schools will succeed in re-opening next week, as government ministers, education authorities and unions battle it out over safety – or supposed safety – concerns. Now, as back in May, when the government first proposed re-opening schools, the unions have demanded evidence that it will be safe for children to return to the classroom. The difference now is that we do have real-world evidence on the spread of Covid-19 in schools. Public Health England (PHE) has analysed what happened when over a million children finally returned to school in June. In the subsequent weeks until the end of term, 70 children and 128

Three mistakes the UK made at the start of the corona crisis

There are three areas where government policy now implicitly accepts that they made mistakes in their earlier handling of the pandemic. The first is the desire to increase testing to 200,000 tests a day. This suggests that the earlier decision to pull back from a test and trace strategy because the infection was being spread in the community was due to a lack of a testing capacity; something that could have been remedied if the government and Public Health England had adopted the collaborative approach to testing that they now have. The second is care homes. It is now clear that the policy of discharging people from hospitals into care

The British state needs rewiring

‘Covid-19 has been perhaps the biggest test of governments worldwide since the 1940s,’ declares the government’s command paper on the virus. The fact that the following paragraph proposes ‘a rapid re-engineering of government’s structures and institutions’ is telling. It is an implicit admission that the British government machine is, in several important areas, failing this test. The argument about whether the UK has the worst death toll in Europe risks descending into statistical absurdity. Until excess mortality figures are known, it won’t be possible to come to a verdict. But it’s hard to argue that the UK has done much better than France, Spain and Italy. We have clearly done

Are public health cuts to blame for the UK’s pandemic response?

As we begin to learn best practice in the fight against Covid-19, it is notable that the handful of countries that have reduced the number of new cases to zero have used diagnostic testing and contact tracing on a large scale and have recommended the use of face masks. After two frantic months, the UK has just about got a handle on testing, but its embryonic contact tracing app has the hallmarks of every government IT fiasco, and there are barely has enough face masks for health workers, let alone the general public. No country can prepare perfectly for a new viral pandemic, but Britain’s public health system has fallen