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Public Health England to be replaced: New leadership structure in force from today

The government has formally announced the replacement of Public Health England (PHE) under the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP). The NIHP will bring together leadership teams from PHE and NHS Test and Trace, as well as the analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) under a single leadership team from today. This is the first step towards becoming a single organisation.

The new organisation will be formalised and operating from spring 2021, with the delay designed to limit the pressure put on operations by the switch curing the COVID-19 pandemic. The new organisation will support local directors of public health and local authorities on the frontline of the COVID-19 response.

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 would like to personally thank Duncan Selbie for his leadership of PHE bringing together 70 different agencies, pursuing ground-breaking 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 will be a new organisation whose primary focus is to ensure we have the best capability to control infectious disease and deal 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 we have the strongest possible health protection system for the whole of the UK. It will build on the existing strong working relationships between the 4 nations of the UK, including on data-sharing, alert levels and border issues.

It will report directly to the Health and Care Secretary and support the clinical leadership of the 4 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 Dido Harding, with a single command structure and operating model to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. This builds on the joint work already being done by PHE and NHS Test and Trace, including the JBC, in response to COVID-19.

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.

Supporting Baroness Harding in her role will be Michael Brodie, who has been appointed Interim Chief Executive Officer of PHE. Michael is currently CEO of the NHS Business Services Authority.

Duncan Selbie, the outgoing PHE Chief Executive, will be taking on a role as a senior advisor to the Department of Health and Social Care on global and public health.

The NIHP will seek to learn from the best systems around the world and work with local directors of public health and their teams, to use their crucial insight and intelligence to deliver a world-class service.

Preventing ill health and reducing health inequalities also remains a top priority. Over the coming weeks and months, the DHSC and PHE experts will engage on future options on decisions around the future of PHE’s remaining health improvement functions, including how to support a successful wider public health system to ensure we have the best possible capability and capacity to support people to improve their health.

The DHSC will establish a new Stakeholder Advisory Group to provide expert advice from leading thinkers in public health, health care and local government.

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.

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