The flagship public health body set up by Boris Johnson to combat the pandemic is in turmoil, with plans looming to cut jobs by up to 40% and suspend routine Covid testing in hospitals and care homes to save money.
Whitehall sources have told the Guardian that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), led by Dr Jenny Harries, is in a state of disarray, with morale at rock bottom and concerns it is not funded to cope with any resurgence in the pandemic. Public health experts warned that the “alarming” cuts could cost lives.
More than 800 staff are due to be lost from vital health protection teams across the country in the coming months, a reduction of 40% from the current 2,000 members of staff. One insider said people were being given two weeks’ notice that their contracts were being ended early, and the way it was being dealt with was similar to the “recent situation at P&O”.
Some other teams throughout the organisation have also been told they need to cut full-time equivalent staff by 40%.
After the Treasury slashed its budget to deal with Covid, UKHSA is now proposing to health ministers that it suspend regular asymptomatic testing in hospitals and care homes from May to save money before a potential winter spike in cases.
Sources in the organisation said funding for asymptomatic testing in high risk settings is only enough to cover six months in a year, and senior officials believe it would be better saved for later in the year.