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Government confirms National Institute for Health Protection

Organisation will bring together Public Health England, NHS Test and Trace and Joint Biosecurity Centre

The government has confirmed the creation of a new organisation to replace Public Health England, which will aim to lead the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) will focus on public health protection and infectious disease capability, the Department for Health and Social Care announced on 18 August.

While the organisation will not formally launch until spring 2021, it will start work immediately with a single command structure to advance the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the department said. 

Led by Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace and chair of NHS Improvement, NIHP will bring together Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace, as well as the analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

The centre will have a number of responsibilities, including:

  • 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.

“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,” said Harding. “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.”

Commenting on the announcement, Richard Torbett, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said preventative healthcare should be “front and centre of plans for the NHS post Covid-19”.

“It’s important we understand how the wider work on prevention and public health will be taken forward, where responsibility and accountability will sit, and how the new organisation will work with health partners.”

Torbett added that working in partnership with the life sciences sector was “vital if we are to keep our focus and continued status as world leaders in areas like vaccination”.