Public Health England can’t meet the challenge it faces from coronavirus

Public Health England is horrendously bureaucratic, hopelessly centralised and horrifyingly incompetent – and now the nation’s future is in its hands.

The Government has said it will only lift lockdown once enough people are being tested. Will PHE be capable of meeting that challenge? It doesn’t look likely. At first, the quango undertook so little testing that it failed to spot and prevent a deadly outbreak. Now it is failing to reach anywhere near the 100,000 tests per day target, and even this meagre goal is far from enough.

What’s worse, PHE is still rebuffing the private sector. It has ignored offers from fully capable laboratories and the likes of Berkshire-based Apacor, which says it could supply millions of tests and has 150,000 ready for immediate distribution. And then there are the lost opportunities: PHE is not providing the samples that companies need to validate new tests.

Innovation is not a top-down process – it takes lots of trial and error. Edison did thousands of experiments using different chemicals and materials to develop the light bulb. PHE is preventing this iterative process.

The costs of this lockdown are growing deeper and faster every day: each business that closes causes problems for its staff, its suppliers and its customers, and their problems, in turn, knock on to others and on and on.

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