Public health systems across England are facing the prospect of a major shake-up in the wake of the pandemic.
But regional health chiefs have warned the proposals risk dismantling the very structures formed since infections peaked and which helped them take back some control.
Sunderland records 40 coronavirus cases in a fortnight – mainly among young people and teenagers – sparking stark warning to drinkers ahead of Bank Holiday
But they have also conceded the previous ‘fractured’ organisation could have made the virus harder to handle in its early stages.
“One thing I think the city residents would really like to see is a better relationship between the NHS at a [hospital] trust level and care homes,” said Geoff Walker, Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for Healthy City.
“We really need to set an agenda to make sure the relationship between hospitals and care homes is managed better than it was.
“A lot of people were affected, with older relatives coming out of hospital with COVID or catching it in care homes.
“I think things could have been managed better and we could have saved lives with better integration.”
Cllr Walker, who was speaking about issues across the NHS and social care systems, rather than in any particular institutions, added a ‘one size fits all’ approach has been shown not to work.
Instead he called on care chiefs to adopt a more ‘localised’ approach, starting at a regional level.
Ministers have announced plans for a new National Institute for Health Protection to replace Public Health England (PHE), which was itself established less than a decade ago under reforms criticised for creating a system which left it unclear which organisations were responsible for monitoring and acting on health data.
The letter has been signed by the chairmen of 10 of the North East’s Health and Wellbeing Boards and urged the government to think carefully before approving more changes.
It said: “We are extremely concerned that this disruption presents a very real risk to our ability to protect our communities as we come towards the winter months.
“We would ask you to think very carefully about the consequences of the decision to alter the role of PHE and the need to establish good relationships quickly with those already working in the field.
“We need to focus on maintaining the local capability, capacity, skills and importantly. the effective working relationships during this next critical phase.”