A new organisation whose primary focus is public health protection and infectious disease capability is being established by the government, health and social care Secretary Matt Hancock has announced. 

This National Institute for Health Protection will start work immediately, with a single command structure to advance the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

From today it will bring together Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace, as well as the analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre under a single leadership team. This is the first step towards becoming a single organisation, focused on tackling Covid-19 and protecting the nation’s health.

In order to minimise disruption to the work dealing with the pandemic, the organisation will be formalised and operating from spring 2021. It will support local directors of public health and local authorities on the front line of the Covid-19 response.

The responsibilities of the NIHP will include:

•         NIHP local health protection teams to deal with infections and other threats

•         Support and resources for local authorities to manage local outbreaks

•         The Covid-19 testing programme

•         Contact tracing

•         The Joint Biosecurity Centre

•         Emergency response and preparedness to deal with the most severe incidents at national and local level

•         Research and reference laboratories and associated service

•         Specialist epidemiology and surveillance of all infectious diseases

•         The Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards

•         Global health security, and

•         Providing specialistic scientific advice on immunisation and countermeasures.

 Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “To give ourselves the best chance of beating this virus once and for all – and of spotting and being ready to respond to other health threats, now and in the future, we are creating a brand new organisation to provide a new approach to public health protection and resilience.

“The National Institute for Health Protection will bring together the expertise of PHE with the enormous response capabilities of NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre to put us in the best possible position for the next stage of the fight against Covid-19 and for the long-term.

“I want to thank all my brilliant colleagues at Public Health England, the NHS, the Joint Biosecurity Centre, local directors of public health and their teams, contact tracers, diagnostics experts, epidemiologists, infection control teams, and every single person who has contributed to the national effort to get this deadly pandemic under control over the last eight months.

“I would like to personally thank Duncan Selbie for his leadership of PHE bringing together 70 different agencies, pursuing groundbreaking work on tackling obesity, promoting health improvement and leading PHE, in what has been an exceptionally challenging time – I am looking forward to continuing working with him as a leading figure in the global, public health agenda.”

The NIHP’s primary focus is to ensure the best capability for controling infectious disease and dealing with pandemics or health protection crises. It will take on existing UK-wide responsibilities and it will work with local government, the NHS and the devolved administrations to ensure the UK has the strongest possible health protection system. It will work with the four nations of the UK on data sharing, alert levels and border issues. It will report directly to the health and social care secretary and support the clinical leadership of the four UK chief medical officers.

The government is immediately bringing together PHE, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre under the interim leadership of Baroness Harding, with a single command structure and operating model to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

Harding, interim executive chair of the NIHP said: “Combining the UK’s world-class public health talent and infrastructure with the new at-scale response capability of NHS Test and Trace into a single organisation puts us in the strongest position to stop the spread of the virus. The fantastic teams in PHE, NHS Test and Trace and in Local Authorities have done so much, over the past eight months, and I thank them all for their service now and in the future.

Michael Brodie has been appointed interim chief executive of PHE. He is currently chief executive of the NHS Business Services Authority.

Responding to Hancock’s speech, Nick Ville, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “Introducing structural reform of this scale during the middle of a global pandemic is a risky move and the proof will be in the pudding for whether it will lead to the urgent improvements that are needed to our national test and trace system.

“The main focus needs to be on local delivery and to not get distracted as this is a crucial time for the NHS as it restarts non-urgent treatments and other patient services while preparing for what is expected to be a very challenging winter. How this new body can keep the further spread of coronavirus at bay over the coming months will be key to the service’s success in the midst of a pandemic

“If the National Institute for Health Protection can deliver on its mission to provide a more agile, alert and joined up response to protecting our country from infectious diseases and other external health threats, both at scale while making the best use of local expertise then health leaders will welcome it with open arms. But this has to be more than shifting deckchairs.

“It is also vital that other key responsibilities of Public Health England’s are maintained and delivered including its work on obesity, smoking cessation, physical activity, alcohol and drug dependence, air pollution and antimicrobial resistance. We hope to see a compassionate style of leadership for PHE’s staff in taking this forward that recognises the important work they do and secures the future of national health protection and health improvement work.”

Date published: August 19, 2020

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