Intended for healthcare professionals


The demise of Public Health England

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 19 August 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3263

Linked Opinion

Public health is about more than being prepared for future pandemics

  1. Gabriel Scally, visiting professor of public health
  1. University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  1. gabriel.scally{at}

Recasting England’s public health structures at this time seems extremely foolhardy

The announcement, made through the pages of a Sunday newspaper, that Public Health England (PHE) was to be unceremoniously dumped comes amid the world’s most serious public health crisis in a century.1 But this debacle has been a long time in the making.

In the past decade the tide of progress has turned, for both the health of England’s population and its public health system. The routine and almost continuous improvement in life expectancy has stalled, and for many of the worst off, life expectancy has fallen.2 Routine public health indicators—for example, immunisation rates and drug related deaths—have been going the wrong way.34

National pride

Achievements in public health in England have always been a matter of national pride. Whether it is the personal contributions of famous figures such as Edward Jenner, John Snow, Kitty Wilkinson, and Richard Doll, or the “sanitary revolution” heralded by the passage of the Public Health Act in 1848 and the appointment of medical officers of health in every local authority, there has always been a sense …

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