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Fears for public safety as government plans major public health changes for start of the Olympics

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06 May 2011

Diane Abbott MP, the Shadow Health Minister, has called on David Cameron to urgently review his plans to re-organise public health services and emergency planning at the same time as the launch of London 2012, following a strongly worded warning by the Health Protection Agency.

Raising concerns that public safety would be put at risk during the Olympics, Ms Abbott said:
‘Part of the Tory-led coalition's top down re-organisation of the NHS is sweeping changes in public health including emergency planning. These multiple re-organisations have left every level of the health service and every organisation concerned with emergency planning in confusion and uncertainty.

I believe that the 2012 Olympics, with the eyes of the world on Britain and millions of visitors flooding into the country, is exactly the wrong time to introduce far-reaching organisational changes into public health and emergency planning, including abolishing the Health Protection Agency.
So I am calling on David Cameron to review his plans to re-organise public health services and emergency planning. They are throwing the system into chaos at the same time as the Olympics. The Health Protection Agency has made its view clear. It believes that the re-organisation "could potentially create considerable risks to the national capability to launch multi-agency responses to incidents and emergencies".

At the very least, these plans should be put on hold until after the Olympics. It is time that this government listened to public health professionals. Alarm bells are now ringing within the Health Protection Agency, local authorities and also local Primary Care Trusts, and increasingly there will also be concern amongst the public about the "considerable risks" that the HPA refers to.

David Cameron seems to be prioritising driving through his NHS reorganisation above public safety during the Olympics.
We have worked hard to bring the Olympic Games to Britain. It should be a time in which we showcase what Britain is about to the rest of the world. The priority should be public safety and ensuring that we are prepared to respond robustly to major incidents and emergencies.

For this Tory-led government to push our public health services into a state of chaos and abolish the current Health Protection Agency right before London 2012, with people from all over the world arriving in London, and the eyes of the entire world on Britain, is nothing short of a disgrace.’

In a strongly worded rebuke of the government’s proposals, the Health Protection Agency have said:
‘Alongside the changes proposed to public health, there are major changes happening, or proposed, to many key partner organisations in emergency preparedness and response, including the NHS, local authorities, and resilience forums. These create considerable uncertainty, and therefore risks, in maintaining relationships and effective joint working and in understanding how the whole system will respond in a major incident.’
Notes to Editors

1) The Health Protection Agency’s view on this is outlined here, in paragraphs 25 to 36:
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