Portrait of Jenny Harries

UKHAS ‘reimagining the country’s health defences’

Responsibility for public health incidents shifts from Public Health England
30 September 2021 , Steve Smethurst

From October, Public Health England’s ‘category 1’ functions under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 will transfer to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The body will become responsible for UK-wide public health protection and infectious disease capability.

UKHSA will be the point of contact for public health incidents and will be responsible for establishing Scientific and Technical Advisory Cells during relevant responses.

Regional UKHSA health protection teams will also provide senior representation at Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) across England. Their role will be to provide expert health protection advice to LRFs, local authority directors of public health and the local NHS.

As part of the changes, the current PHE regional directors/NHS regional director of public health (and their deputies) will move to the Department of Health and Social Care’s new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID).

While the OHID is not a category 1 responder, OHID staff will be notified by UKHSA of any major incident affecting their region.

A ‘shadow’ executive committee has been established to provide a decision-making focus for UKHSA, with appropriate governance and performance oversight, bringing together experts from across PHE and NHS Test and Trace.

Interim members of the committee include chief executive Dr Jenny Harries as chair; Jacqui Rock, UKHSA transition director, chief commercial officer and head of corporate services; and Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor, as one of several transitions leads.

Harries said that significant work has been undertaken to refine the design and structure of the new organisation. “While we have a very important ‘day one’ ahead of us, there will be a continuing journey of transformation over the coming months as we adapt and change to fit the needs of the national and global health security context,” she said.

Harries added: “The creation of the UKHSA represents a reimagining of the health security defences of our country. We will strive to make the UK a science superpower and grow our capabilities from the extremely strong foundation already in place, while delivering our core mission to protect the public from all threats to health, whether they are infectious diseases, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or environmental hazards. This will need to continue while we relentlessly respond to the pandemic.”

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