Public Health England’s approach to coronavirus has been “totally negligent”, according to a leading specialist, who also suggests the agency wasted resources by helping overseas.

Dr John Ashton, the former director of public health in the North West, says he was concerned by an increasing workload which should have been left to the Department for International Development (Dfid).

Long-haul air miles carried out by staff almost doubled – from 2.8 million miles to 5.1 million miles – over three years, according to the latest annual reports, as part of what the agency described as a “one-HMG approach to global health”.

The accounts explain how the department has been “working closely” with both Dfid and the Department for Health on “agreed priorities, including the global health security agenda; and [to] respond to emerging threats”.

With one of those emerging threats turning out to be coronavirus, Dr Ashton, who retired from the NHS in 2013 as PHE was launched, said the agency should have been quicker to respond. PHE’s time would have been better spent, he said, ensuring testing facilities were up to scratch throughout the country.

“It’s been inadequate and they have failed to catch up with themselves even when it was shown to be inadequate,” he told The Telegraph.

“We’ve known that influenza has had the potential to do this, especially a mutant virus of the kind we’ve seen. We’ve known this is something that is possible to happen and they should have been on top of all the way through.”

The Telegraph disclosed four weeks ago how ministers were informed three years ago that Britain would be quickly overwhelmed by a pandemic amid a shortage of critical care beds, morgue capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE).

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