New agency to tackle future pandemic threats

A new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has been launched to prevent and respond to external threats to the country’s health – such as from infectious diseases like COVID-19.

Speaking at the LGA’s annual public health conference in March, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock MP said UKHSA would lead on health security at a local, national and global level. 

UKHSA will ensure the nation can respond quickly, and at greater scale, to future threats by bringing together data analytics and genomic surveillance with mass testing and contact-tracing capability, combining key elements of Public Health England with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and NHS Test and Trace, Mr Hancock said.

Previously titled the National Institute for Health Protection, the new body will be led by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries, and its immediate focus will be the continued fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

An LGA spokesperson said that while UKHSA needs to operate nationally and globally in response to major health threats, this needs to be “aligned with councils’ ability to react swiftly on the ground, using their local knowledge, expertise and skills”.

He added: “Public health teams in councils have been at the forefront of the tremendous local response to the pandemic.

“We have learnt that responding to, and recovering from, an outbreak of this scale should start at the local level, working closely with national agencies.

“It is vitally important that we clearly define the role and accountability of each, as well as devolve more leadership, control and resources to councils.”

The LGA said health protection should also be intrinsically linked to health improvement, if health inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic are to be reduced. More details about the Government’s approach to health promotion were expected as first was going to press. 

Meanwhile, in its annual public health report, the LGA has called for greater frontline funding for local public health teams, to help the country build back fairer from the pandemic and better protect communities from future outbreaks. Funding should match the growth in overall NHS funding, to at least £3.9 billion by 2024/25, it says.



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