A new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to plan for, prevent and respond to external health threats has been announced by the government.
The 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 the nation can respond quickly and at greater scale to deal with pandemics and future threats.
The primary focus for the UKHSA in its initial phase of operation will be the continued fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
It 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, and NHS Test and Trace.
The agency will be led by Dr Jenny Harries who previously served on the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation 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.
Formally established in April 2021, the UKHSA will be Chaired by Ian Peters, currently Chair of Barts Health NHS Trust and former Chief Executive of British Gas, Managing Director of NatWest Small Business Services, and chairman of several data driven growth technology companies.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock (pictured) 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 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.”