The UK is setting up a new organisation aimed at halting future pandemics, Matt Hancock announced.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) will launch on 1 April where the organisation will plan, prevent and respond to extreme health threats, such as pandemics caused by infectious diseases.
Tasked to prevent future threats to health
Speaking to a briefing hosted by the Local Government Association, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “UKHSA, as it will be known, will be this country’s permanent standing capacity to plan, prevent and respond to external threats to health.
“Next, UKHSA will be tasked to prevent external threats to health, deploying the full might of our analytic and genomic capability on infectious diseases … in all, helping to cast a protective shield over the nation’s health.
“Even after years without a major public health threat, UKHSA must be ready not just to do the science but to respond at unbelievable pace.”
The agency will be led by Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, who will be its chief executive.
UKHSA will replace the National Institute for Health Protection, which was established in August with Dido Harding as its interim chair. Lady Harding will step down to make way for the new agency.
In a statement: Mr Hancock said: “Dr Jenny Harries brings 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.
“I want everybody at UKHSA, at all levels, to wake up every day with a zeal to plan for the next pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the world-leading capabilities of the country’s public health science, and it has also shown the challenges of protecting the nation’s health are changing at an unprecedented pace, as new types of threats emerge.”
Dr Harries said: “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.”
At the same briefing, Lady Harding, who is head of NHS test and trace, revealed that more UK residents downloaded the Zoom app than the test and trace app last year.
She said: “[NHS test and trace] was the second most downloaded app in the country last year, only after Zoom, and slightly ahead of TikTok … 21 million people downloaded the app.”
Additional reporting by PA.