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UK Health Security Agency

Volume 691: debated on Wednesday 24 March 2021

I wish to inform the House of progress in establishing the UK health security agency and the appointment of its leadership.

In August 2020, the Government announced its intention to create a new body, bringing together the at-scale operational response capability of NHS Test and Trace, the joint biosecurity centre’s intelligence and analytical capability and the public health science and health protection expertise of Public Health England into an organisation focused wholly on protecting people from external threats to this country’s health.

From 1 April, we will formally establish the new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The UKHSA will be this country’s permanent standing capacity to prepare for, prevent and respond to threats to health.

The UKHSA will plan for the risk of future infectious disease pandemics and other major health threats, maintaining this focus both during a crisis and in better times. It will work with partners around the world and lead the UK’s global contribution to global health protection research. The new agency will prevent threats by deploying the full weight of our analytic and genomic capability, on infectious diseases and beyond, and will hold responsibility for our health security scientific capabilities including those at Porton Down and Colindale.. It will respond to the threats we face with speed and scale, including terrorist threats to health, another pandemic or environmental hazards.

The agency will operate with local and national partners to deliver its brief, including building a strong partnership with local government and directors of public health. It will work with the national public health bodies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, continuing strong collaborative work such as the joint biosecurity centre to support health security for the whole of the UK.

UKHSA will be empowered to hire the very best team possible from around the world. Its chief executive will be Dr Jenny Harries, who has performed brilliantly during this crisis. Dr Harries previously led the public health response to the Novichok poisonings, she played a critical part in the UK’s Ebola response, and last year, as deputy chief medical officer, she delivered the shielding programme which is both incredibly sensitive and has been superbly delivered. Dr Harries’ distinguished career as both a public health physician, and crucially, as a public health leader, make her impeccably qualified for this role.

Ian Peters will be UKHSA’s Chair. Under Ian’s leadership as chairman of Barts Health NHS Trust, the trust has built an impressive track record in life sciences with the combination of private sector, academic and Government capability that is so important to delivering excellence at scale. Ian brings his extensive experience of leadership in the public and private sector to this task, including several years as managing director of British Gas. Both Dr Harries and Mr Peters will be appointed from 1 April.

To protect operational continuity and provide for necessary staff consultations, the transition of responsibilities and capabilities from Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace into the new agency will take place over the coming months, with the UKHSA fully operational from October 2021. Until this date, PHE and NHS Test and Trace will continue to deliver their existing functions.

I will provide a further update in due course on the Government’s wider plans for public health reform, including on arrangements for promoting and improving health.