UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has created the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP). NIHP 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 (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace, as well as the analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) 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.
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 services.
- Specialist epidemiology and surveillance of all infectious diseases.
- The Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards.
- Global health security.
- Providing specialistic scientific advice on immunisation and countermeasures.
Speaking at the launch of the new body Mr Hancock commented:
“Today I am announcing that we are forming a new organisation: the National Institute for Health Protection. The National Institute for Health Protection will have a single and relentless mission: protecting people from external threats to this country’s health.
“External threats like biological weapons, pandemics, and of course infectious diseases of all kinds. It will combine our world-class talent and science infrastructure with the growing response capability of NHS Test and Trace and the sophisticated analytical capability we are building in the Joint Biosecurity Centre. Of course, these institutions work incredibly closely together already today.
“But I want that integration to be seamless. Crucially, it will be a national Institute that works very much locally, working with local directors of public health and their teams, who are the unsung heroes of health protection. Their local insight and intelligence is a mission-critical part of our response.
“The National Institute for Health Protection will also work closely with the devolved administrations, taking on existing UK-wide responsibilities, and supporting all four Chief Medical Officers with access to the best scientific and analytical advice. By bringing these parts of the system together, we can get more than the sum of the parts.
“And the mission is for a purpose. So we have a stronger, more joined-up response to protect people and the communities in which they live. The NIHP will report directly to ministers, and support the clinical leadership of the Chief Medical Officers. It will be dedicated – dedicated – to the investigation and prevention of infectious diseases and external health threats.
“That will be its mission. It is conceived amid crisis but it will help maintain vigilance in the years to come.”
Commenting on changes to Public Heath England and the announcement of a new National Institute for Health Protection, Claire Anderson, Chair of the English Pharmacy Board, said:
“Whatever happens with administrative changes, the Government must ensure it delivers a compelling vision for public health and prevention.
“This must include making most of pharmacy to reduce the backlog of care from COVID-19 and better manage demand across the health service.
“Pharmacies play a vital role in supporting prevention, healthy living and tackling health inequalities, including in communities at a higher risk from COVID-19.
“It’s encouraging to hear the Secretary of State’s commitment to embedding health improvements across government and the NHS, including pharmacy and primary care – this now needs to be supported by funding after years of cuts to public health.
“As we look toward winter pressures, risks of a second wave of COVID-19, and a potential ‘no-deal’ Brexit, it’s vital that we don’t lose time amid these changes.
“We must ensure public health messaging continues, and will be looking for clarity on support for health teams, local and regional roles and resources.”
Duncan Selbie, outgoing PHE Chief Executive, said:
“I could not be any prouder of what PHE has achieved since 2013 in protecting the country from infectious diseases and environmental hazards and in improving the health of the people from reduced smoking rates to tackling poor air quality and obesity and much else.
“PHE’s work on the pandemic in the early stages and since stands testament to the professionalism and unremitting hard work of my colleagues and bought precious time for the NHS and government to prepare.
“It has been the honour and privilege of my career to lead PHE.”
The government is immediately bringing together PHE, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre under the interim leadership of Baroness Dido Harding, with a single command structure and operating model to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baroness Dido Harding, Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, 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 8 months, and I thank them all for their service now and in the future.
“PHE has worked incredibly well with NHS Test and Trace, and with winter ahead, the life-saving work we are doing is more important than ever.
“The changes announced today are designed to strengthen our response, and to radically ramp up our fight against this disease, whilst also protecting PHE’s essential work beyond COVID that is so important for the nation’s health.”
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