The Government has created the National Institute for Health Protection, a brand new organisation whose primary focus is public health protection and infectious disease capability.
The new organisation is to focus on a rigorous science-led approach to public health protection. It is intended that the institute will boost the UK’s ability to deal with, and recover from, COVID-19 and meet health challenges of the coming winter.
The National Institute for Health Protection NIHP will start work immediately, with a single command structure to advance the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.
In order to minimise disruption to the vital work dealing with the pandemic, the organisation will be formalised and operating from spring 2021.
The new organisation will support local directors of public health and local authorities on the frontline of the COVID-19 response.
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 specialist scientific advice on immunisation and countermeasures.
Health and Care 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 want to thank all my brilliant colleagues at Public Health England, the NHS, the Joint Biosecurity Centre, local directors of public health and their teams, contact tracers, diagnostics experts, epidemiologists, infection control teams, and every single person who has contributed to the national effort to get this deadly pandemic under control over the last 8 months.
“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 focus on ensuring 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 the strongest possible health protection system for the whole of the UK. It will build on the existing strong working relationships between the four nations of the UK, including on data-sharing, alert levels and border issues. NIHP will report directly to the Health and Care Secretary and support the clinical leadership of the four UK chief medical officers.
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.