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Covid-19: UK’s chief scientific officer defends make up of advisory group

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 28 April 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m1707

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  1. Jane Feinmann
  1. London, UK

Public health specialists have reacted with incredulity to an assurance from the UK’s chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance that public health is adequately represented on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) because “at least four people from Public Health England (PHE) are at every meeting” with other public health specialists called in when they are needed.

Vallance made the claim at a briefing for science and medical journalists on 27 April following the publication on Friday by the Guardian of the names of 23 attendees at Sage comprising 21 scientists and two Downing Street political advisers.

Vallance’s assurances have failed to allay concern that secrecy over the membership of Sage is hiding the fact that the public health sector is barely or not represented in the group.

Gabriel Scally, professor of public health and planning at the University of the West of England, said that Vallance’s claim that public health expertise was represented by PHE employees demonstrated “extraordinary ignorance about public health.”

“He appears to believe that ‘working for PHE’ guaranteed training, qualifications, and experience in public health and the management of disease outbreaks,” Scally told The BMJ.

“Sage is in a mindset that I call ‘scientistic’—producing theses then testing them and producing antitheses. We are heading down a unique path instead of getting on with the job of managing an unprecedented public health emergency.”

Allyson Pollock, a public health doctor and director of the Newcastle University Centre …

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