Senior health figures across the North East have confronted the Government over their plans to replace Public Health England (PHE), the country’s public health body, with a new National Institute for Health Protection.

Ten of the region’s councils from Tyneside, Wearside, Durham and Teeside have written a joint letter to Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, which raises concern over plans within central government to create a new organisation as the global pandemic continues.

The new organisation would replace PHE which has made decisions on the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chairs of Health and Wellbeing Boards across the North East, who all contributed to the letter, have highlighted the importance of utilising the local knowledge, resources and experience of PHE regional teams to support the health and wellbeing of communities across the region.

They also warn of the potential consequences of disbanding expert, local teams who have plenty of experience dealing with regional outbreaks of infectious diseases such as flu and measles.

The letter states: “We want to highlight the importance of the broader role that PHE play in our local system working.

“We would strongly recommend that any restructuring protects these functions which support our local work on health improvement, healthcare, public health and critically facilitate our work to address health inequalities, which we have sadly been reminded of during the pandemic.

“We have all been involved with many reorganisations over the years and whilst some of those have been beneficial in the longer term, we also understand the upheaval and disruption they create.

“Our local systems are defined by mutually supportive and incredibly strong relationships, based on professional respect, trust and a shared commitment to do the right thing for our communities.”

Councillor Dorothy Davison, Middlesbrough’s Executive member for Adult Social Care & Public Health and one of the signatories to the letter, said: “This isn’t about playing party politics – it’s about retaining and investing in a system that we know is best able to protect the communities we represent.

“We’re simply urging the Government to think very carefully about the consequences of the decision to alter the role of PHE and to ensure that local government are fully involved in the development of any future system.

“We’re all under immense pressure, and this disruption presents a very real risk to our ability to protect our communities as winter approaches.”