Government accused of ‘science by press release’ by Public Health England

The chief of Public Health England’s Covid response team privately accused the government of pursuing “science by press release”, it has emerged.

In the run-up to ministers’ December U-turn on Christmas coronavirus regulations senior medical experts shared their frustration at the government’s approach in a private email chain.

The emails, reported by the website Politico, show PHE Covid director Dr Susan Hopkins was among senior experts apparently unimpressed by the government’s approach.

The email chain dates from 14 December, when health secretary Matt Hancock announced the emergence of a new variant of coronavirus – later used as a pretext for a U-turn on Christmas regulations.When one infection control specialist on the email chain said they couldn’t see anything about a new variant on “the usual channels”, another dubbed the approach “science by press release”.

Dr Hopkins replied: “Science by press release is correct.”

A spokesperson for PHE said she was not criticising the government.

The director of Covid response also told the experts that PHE wouldn’t be able to brief them on the new variant for another 24 hours.

Asked about the emails, a Public Health England spokesperson said: “Dr Hopkins was absolutely not criticising the Government.

“She was reflecting on the fact that, owing to the fast moving nature of the science throughout the pandemic, there has been a need to communicate quickly and directly to the public, often at the same time as the scientific community, as opposed to the usual full peer-review publication process which often takes months.”

The Department for Health and Social Care was approached for comment on this story.

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