UK Health Security Agency to ‘lead response to future health threats'
A new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) ‘to plan for, prevent, and respond to external health threats such as infectious diseases’, will be led by current Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, the Government has announced.
The Department of Health & Social Care says UKHSA – previously the National Institute for Health Protection – will be ‘the UK leader for health security, providing intellectual, scientific, and operational leadership at national and local level, as well as on the global stage’. It will ‘ensure that the nation can respond quickly, and at greater scale, to deal with pandemics and future threats’. Its primary focus in its ‘initial phase of operation’ will be the continued fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Agency will ‘bring together the country’s cutting-edge capabilities in data analytics and genomic surveillance with scale testing and contact tracing capability’ – combining key elements of Public Health England with the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), and NHS Test and Trace. To be formally established this April, it will be chaired by Ian Peters, currently Chair of Barts Health NHS Trust, and former CEO of British Gas, MD of NatWest Small Business Services, and chairman of several data-driven growth technology companies.
The Department of Health & Social Care said: “Dr Harries has previously served on the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), and brings a wealth of public health knowledge and expertise gained from working in the NHS and local government at local, regional, and national levels. She played central roles in the UK’s response to COVID, Ebola, Zika, monkeypox, MERS, and the Novichok attacks.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The UKHSA will be this country’s permanent standing capacity to plan, prevent, and respond to, external threats to health. It will bring together our capabilities from the scientific excellence embodied by the likes of Dr Susan Hopkins and her amazing colleagues in clinical public health, to the extraordinary capability of NHS Test and Trace, which Dido Harding has built so effectively over the last nine months, and the JBC. Dr Jenny Harries brings huge local, regional, and national experience to the role, and is perfectly placed to help us not only learn lessons from the COVID-19 response, but equally to keep us in a state of readiness, primed to respond to infectious diseases and other external health threats. I want everybody at UKHSA, at all levels, to wake up every day with a zeal to plan for the next pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the world-leading capabilities of the country’s public health science, and it has also shown the challenges of protecting the nation’s health are changing at an unprecedented pace, as new types of threats emerge.”
Dr Jenny Harries said: “The pandemic has put the UK’s health security capabilities in sharp focus, and the UKHSA will change the way we approach health protection.
“With the creation of the UKHSA, we have an unprecedented opportunity to build on the scientific and operational strength that has been developed, to learn from the past, and to further develop strong bonds with health protection leadership from global to local, to ensure that we are ready for the challenges of the future. The UKHSA will be agile in its responses, will maximise the benefits of high-quality data, and will be relentless in its mission to rapidly identify and respond to new threats, whilst working seamlessly with academia, scientists, industry and local communities.”
The Agency will lead on health protection and security activity for England, and will also take over from the PHE and NHS Test and Trace work that those organisations already carry out on a UK basis, either as reserved functions, or under collaborative arrangements with the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland administrations (for example, the Joint Biosecurity Centre). The UKHSA Board will be announced in due course.