Matt Hancock today unveiled a new pandemic control organization that will replace Public Health England and protect the UK from future disease outbreaks.
The Minister of Health said the UK health security agency will begin its work next month and that its “only job” will be “to plan, prevent and respond to external health threats”.
Dr. Jenny Harries, the UK’s assistant chief medical officer who has played a key role in press conferences on Downing Street throughout the Covid pandemic, will be put at the helm.
Mr Hancock said the UKSA – originally known as the National Institute for Health Protection – will first focus on fighting Covid before tackling future virus outbreaks or biochemical attacks at “incredible pace”.
Dr. Harries has advised the government during the current pandemic and has been overseeing the UK’s response to Russia’s Novichok poisoning in 2018.
PHE is being dropped after widespread criticism of tackling the Covid crisis, which Boris Johnson described as “sluggish” last year.
PHE’s work on improving health, which includes fighting obesity and reducing smoking, will be passed on to the Ministry of Health.
The UKSA will be fully operational in the fall and combine NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Center, which advises on lockdowns, under one roof.
When it came out, the Test and Trace app was the second most downloaded app in the country after Zoom last year.
Matt Hancock today launched a new Pandemic Control Organization to replace Public Health England and protect the UK from future infectious disease outbreaks
Dr. Jenny Harries, the UK’s assistant chief physician who played a key role in the Downing Street Covid press conferences, is put at the helm
Hancock announced at a press conference today, “UKSA will be known to be the permanent capability of this country to plan, prevent and respond to external health threats.
‘UKSA will work with partners around the world to lead the UK’s global contribution to health security research.
WHAT IS THE UKSA?
The UK Health Security Agency, originally to be known as the National Institute of Health Protection, will launch on April 1st.
Initially, the work will focus on the further fight against the coronavirus.
Once the UK is out of the Covid crisis, UKSA will prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks.
The panel will also advise the government on biochemical attacks on the UK.
UKSA will bring together Public Health England, the Joint Biosecurity Center and NHS Test and Trace.
All organizations that ultimately respond to the Ministry of Health are basically streamlined and run under one roof.
The facility will be closely associated with local health teams who have run their own contact tracking programs.
‘UKSA’s next role will be to prevent external health threats and to use the full strength of our analytical and genomic skills on infectious diseases to create a shield for the country’s health.
“Even after years without a major public health threat, the UKSA must be ready not only to do science but to respond at an incredible pace.”
He added, “This is not just an agency but a professional guide here and around the world.”
UKSA is the definitive name for the National Institute of Health Protection, which was founded last August when it was announced that it would be phasing out PHE.
Baroness Dido Harding, who was originally recognized for the top job at UKSA and also oversaw NHS Test and Trace, will step down as head of department next month.
Baroness Harding, who also spoke about public health at the Local Government Association’s annual conference today, announced that the contact tracking app was downloaded by 21 million people over the past year.
She said only the Zoom video calling application had been downloaded multiple times. Zoom saw an extraordinary surge in downloads after the government made work from home a law.
The UKSA will be headed by Dr. Harries will be in control of much of the country’s long-term coronavirus struggle and future responses to similar outbreaks.
She has even defended the government’s actions during the pandemic in the face of critics and evidence suggesting it could have saved more lives by acting faster during the first wave.
Dr. Harries defended the UK’s decision to stop testing the public for coronavirus in spring 2020, saying it was “not appropriate”.
She later said there was no evidence that more testing saved more lives, although that is the approach the government is now taking to control Covid outbreaks.
When examining anyone suspected of having the virus, Dr. Harries, in a briefing in March last year, “It comes at a point in a pandemic when this is not an appropriate intervention,” the Financial Times reported.
The UK had stopped testing people because PHE – in charge of the system at the time before NHS Test & Trace was set up – did not have enough capacity.
It was able to run far fewer tests than the hundreds of thousands of people infected with coronavirus would have asked for.
As a result, anyone who believed they had coronavirus was simply instructed to stay home and wait for it to be over or get medical help if they got seriously ill.
Dr. Harries later admitted that the UK might have done more testing if it had been able to, saying “If we had unlimited capacity and the ongoing support beyond that, we might have taken a slightly different approach.”