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New UK Health Security Agency to lead future health threat responses

Going forward, the planning for, prevention of and response to external health threats such as infectious diseases is set to be coordinated by a new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

It is set to be led by Dr Jenny Harries, who previously served on the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and has a wealth of NHS and local government expertise working on public health at local, regional and national levels.

The UKHSA, previously the National Institute for Health Protection, will lead the UK response across health security, providing intellectual, scientific and operational leadership at national and local level - as well as working with others on the global stage to share learning and coordinate responses.

It will ensure the country can respond more quickly, and at a greater scale, to future pandemics and health threats.

During its initial phase of operation, the UKHSA will primarily focus on the continued efforts to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control.

This will include using data analytics and genomic surveillance, alongside scale testing and contact tracing capability, to monitor and manage the virus. These key tools combine elements of Public Health England with the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) and NHS Test and Trace.

The UKHSA will be formally established in April 2021.

Health 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 9 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.”

Dr Harries, incoming Chief Executive at UKHSA, added: “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, learn from the past and further develop strong bonds with health protection leadership from global to local, to ensure we are ready for the challenges of the future.

“The UKHSA will be agile in its responses, maximise the benefits of high-quality data, be relentless in its mission to rapidly identify and respond to new threats, whilst working seamlessly with academia, scientists, industry and local communities.”

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NHE May/June 2024

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