Dido Harding has been appointed to run the new national body that will replace Public Health England

Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 3:13 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 3:13 pm
Harding runs England’s heavily criticised NHS Test and Trace system (Photo: PA)

Baroness Dido Harding has been appointed to run a new health body that will replace Public Health England (PHE).

Ms Harding is to become the interim executive chair of the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP), which will be responsible for preventing future outbreaks of infectious diseases.

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Who is Dido Harding?

Dido Harding is a Conservative peer who runs England’s heavily criticised NHS Test and Trace system, which she has been in charge of since May.

She has been a Conservative member of the House of Lords since she was given a life peerage in 2014 by former Prime Minister David Cameron, and has sat on the Economic Affairs Committee of the Lords since July 2017.

Prior to this, Harding has held a variety of senior roles at TalkTalk, Sainsbury's and Tesco.

She is married to former minister John Penrose who has been linked to think tank group 1828 that is calling for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance system, which people pay for through private firms or a government scheme.

The decision to appoint Ms Harding to run the new national health body has been met with anger from some Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, given the failures of the Test and Trace programme.

The NHS app has had months of delays, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock first suggesting the app would be available in mid-May. However, the government ditched efforts to develop its own technology in June, amid concerns about privacy and accuracy issues. The launch of a new public trial of the app was only announced days ago.

Confirming Ms Harding’s appointment on Tuesday 18 August, Mr Hancock said, “From today, PHE, the JBC (Joint Biosecurity Centre) and NHS Test and Trace will operate under single leadership, reporting to Baroness Dido Harding, who will establish the NIHP and undertake the global search for its future leadership.

“I have no doubt that under Baroness Harding we will found the NIHP as a thriving, mission-driven organisation. We have a common mission, the greatest mission of any of our working lives, and we have no time to lose in building the institution of the future.”

What will the new national health body do?

Mr Hancock has said that the coronavirus response work of PHE is to be merged with the NHS Test and Trace programme, along with some of the work of the Joint Biosecurity Centre, to form a new body that is specifically designed to handle pandemics and other health threats.

The new NIHP will be dedicated to investigating and preventing infectious diseases and external health threats, including pandemics and biological weapons.

Mr Hancock said that the decision to break up PHE to form a new health body had been made in order to strengthen public health in the UK, with the aim of bringing together science and skill into one coherent whole.

He also added that the NIHP will work closely with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, handling UK-wide responsibilities and supporting all four chief medical officers with the best scientific and analytical advice.

He said, “By bringing these parts of the system together, we can get more than the sum of the parts. And the mission, that mission, is for a purpose, so we have a stronger, more joined-up response to protect people and the communities in which they live.

“It will be dedicated to the investigation and prevention of infectious diseases and external health threats, that’ll be its mission. It’s conceived amid crisis but it will help maintain vigilance for years to come.”