Jenny Harries to replace Dido Harding as head of new public-health body

Deputy chief medical officer will lead the renamed UK Health Security Agency
Dido Harding will step down as head of NHS Test and Trace and interim chair of the NIHP – now the UK Health Security Agency. Photo: PA

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, will lead the UK’s new public-health body, the freshly rebranded UK Health Security Agency when it comes into being next month.

Test and trace boss Baroness Dido Harding has been leading the development of the UKHSA – which until now has been known as the National Institute for Health Protection – but will hand over her responsibilities to Harries. 

Harding said it had been a "privilege to serve in the national response against Covid and to establish the scale testing, tracing and analytical capability that makes up NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre".

UKHSA will combine the work of the two bodies with that of Public Health England.

Harries will leave her medical officer role when she becomes UKHSA chief executive.

Ian Peters, the former chief executive of British Gas who now chairs Barts Health NHS Trust, will chair the new agency.

PHE’s interim chief executive, Michael Brodie – who took over from Duncan Selbie when health secretary Matt Hancock announced it would be scrapped last year – will remain in post to lead the delivery of PHE’s health improvement and healthcare public health functions and support the transition.

The appointments come after the Department of Health and Social Care published documents showing it had paid nearly £1m to a search firm to hire a handful of interim staff to fill finance roles to set up the new body.

In its first few months, UKHSA will focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency has posed four questions to inform its work, which it has asked the public and health bodies to respond to here by 26 April. 

The questions are: what do local public health partners most need from UKHSA?; how can UKHSA support its partners to take the most effective action?; how do you think the health protection capabilities we need in the future should differ from the ones we have had to date?; and how can UKHSA excel at listening to, understanding and influencing citizens?

Hancock said Harries will bring “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”.

He said the pandemic has shown both the UK’s capabilities in public-health science and that public-health challenges are “changing at an unprecedented pace, as new types of threats emerge”.

Harries said the creation of UKHSA marks 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,” she said.

Peters said: “I do not underestimate the importance of this role and will lean on my recent years within the NHS, my experience in transforming major companies, and my insights in data-driven technology to ensure the UKHSA fulfils its vital purpose.”

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