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New health protection body takes over the reins as Public Health England is phased out

Jenny Harries, a former deputy chief medical officer, heads the UKHSA


The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which takes over responsibilities from Public Health England, began operating fully today (1 October). With a government brief to focus on health protection and security, the agency has an immediate short-term priority: to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Staff will play a key role in the development of vaccines as new variants emerge.

In the longer term, the UKHSA will build on the infrastructure developed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and will tackle other infectious diseases and external health threats. It will have a strong focus on life sciences, strengthening the relationships with academia, research organisations and industry that have grown during the pandemic.

A global vision

Chief executive Jenny Harries, said: ‘I am immensely proud to have been asked to take on the challenge of protecting the nation by leading the UKHSA, building on the experiences and lessons learned in public health protection over the last decade.'

Dr Harries added: ‘UKHSA combines world-leading scientists, clinicians and operational expertise, with cutting-edge technologies and data science to lead health protection locally, nationally and globally.’

The launch comes shortly before a milestone is reached: the sequencing of the one millionth Covid-19 whole genome. This means the UK will have sequenced the second highest number in the world. The agency builds on the legacy of Public Health England, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre, according to a a UKHSA press release, which said the pandemic had exposed ‘stark inequalities’ in society and that tackling these is part of UKHSA’s ‘mission’.

Millionth genome milestone looms

Sajid Javid, the health and social care secretary, said: ‘As the UK prepares to sequence the millionth genome, the UKHSA will also play a key role in maintaining the UK’s position as a world leader in whole genome sequencing. New variants can pose the most serious risk to global recovery from the pandemic.'

Mr Javid added: 'The new variant platform that sits within UKHSA will enable the UK’s unique sequencing and variant assessment capabilities to support other countries’ response to coronavirus (Covid-19), strengthening global health security and protecting people here and abroad.'

For more information, visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-health-security-agency


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