Speech: Plan, prevent and respond: reforming health security

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Statement to Parliament: New action to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Bolton

Today, I want to talk about public health. Because theres never been a more important time for public health.

If you think about it, never in this countrys history has a year taught the public more about the importance of public health and never before have those of us who work in public health learned more than over the past year.

I am so proud of what public health teams have done across the UK. Youve never worked harder.

Some say that after this pandemic we must learn the lessons for the future. And of course, we must.

But why wait until after the pandemic? The truth is, that weve been learning throughout.

From the first moment that PHE colleagues, last January, developed a test for COVID-19 before it was even called COVID-19.

From the moment we brought in colleagues with private-sector experience alongside academic, clinical and government experience to build a testing infrastructure and then to build a vaccination programme, both on a scale never seen before.

And weve also learned a huge amount about the vital importance of the health family all working together as one big team breaking down silos, working as a system.

Today I want to talk about the future of our public health system and our reforms to build on this work and make changes from what weve learned over the past year.

At the heart of our public health reforms is the insight that it is critical in good times and in bad times to have an institution whose sole job is to protect the nation from external threats to our health.

We must do that at the same time as the constant work for health improvement.

And for health improvement to be as effective as possible it must be embedded in the heart of government across government local and national and not at arms length.

There are 2 functions of our public health system: health security and health promotion.

Health security is about protecting the country from external threats to health like COVID.

Health promotion is about marshalling the collective power of our society to promote good health of the population, on the basis that prevention is better than cure.

These 2 concepts health security and health promotion are, of course, linked on many levels.

For example, obesity is a major factor in how ill you get if you get COVID.

But while health security and health promotion are deeply intertwined they are emphatically not the same thing.

We need to get better at both.

They each need focus, they need dedicated homes at a national level and strong connections to the local.

And, in both, we must harness the dramatic innovations of the last decade and the last year in data, in genomics, in population health, in science, in research, and so much else.

Now, in the coming days, we will set out our approach to health promotion. Today I want to set out our approach to health security.

Weve made huge strides in how we do this in the last year.

At the start of this crisis, we didnt have a significant diagnostics capability in this country so we built one.

We did have a world-leading capability in genomics and weve built on it further.

The analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre which builds on the expertise of PHE, has developed, in my view, into the best analytical resource Ive worked with in a decade as a minister.

And of course, the vaccines programme has been a template of how governments can get things done harnessing science, enterprise and the NHS to develop, manufacture and deploy at huge scale and speed.

So in all of this and in the reforms Im setting out today we build on strong foundations. Im so proud of what the team have achieved, together, over the past year across PHE, NHS Test and Trace, the JBC, local and national government, directors of public health.

We will now build on these foundations a dedicated, mission-driven, national institution for health security that brings all these capabilities together in our ability to respond with total focus on the prevention and response to pandemics, communicable diseases and external threats to health.

On 1 April so, next week we will formally establish the new UK Health Security Agency UKHSA.

UKHSA, as it will be known, will be this countrys permanent standing capacity to plan, prevent and respond to external threats to health.

UKHSA will bring together our capabilities in this area from the scientific excellence embodied by the likes of Dr Susan Hopkins and her amazing colleagues in clinical public health to the extraordinary capability that NHS Test and Trace has built, which Dido Harding has led so effectively over the last 9 months and the JBC with that analytical brilliance.

I want everybody at UKHSA, at all levels, to wake up every day with a zeal to plan for the next pandemic.

That sort of focus is vital. Its vital when the crisis is live like now. But in a way, thats the easy bit.

The hard bit is keeping that focus in the good times too when theres no pandemic on the horizon.

As part of this planning, UKHSA will work with partners around the world and lead the UKs global contribution to health security research.

Next, UKHSA will be tasked to prevent external threats to health, deploying the full might of our analytic and genomic capability, on infectious diseases; holding responsibility for our health security capabilities at Porton Down and Colindale and elsewhere; preparing for and preventing external threats to health like bioterrorism.

In all, helping to cast a protective shield over the nations health.

Third, UKHSA will respond to the threats we face with speed and scale, and these are critical. As we saw at the start of last year, when a new pathogen mutates, it can spread dangerously fast.

Even after years without a new major public health threat, UKHSA must be ready. Not just to do the science but then to respond at unbelievable pace.

This is what NHS Test and Trace has done. And this is what weve learned from the vaccine programme too.

The challenge, and it is a genuinely difficult thing to pull off, is for the institution to stand in readiness, and be able to scale up quickly.

So it must plan, it must prevent and it must respond. UKHSA must be ready.

Now, in a previous life, I worked at the Bank of England. In financial stability work it is said that: The next crisis comes when the last person who was around in the previous crisis retires.

Thats why we have the Bank of England; looking out for the nations financial stability, to scan the horizon for threats to financial stability, and take action to plan, prevent, and respond in bad times and in good.

Thats what our new institution will do for health security.

UKHSA will be empowered to hire the very best team possible from around the world.

Its Chief Executive will be Dr Jenny Harries, who has performed brilliantly during this crisis. Dr Harries led the public health response to the Novichok poisonings. She played a critical part in the UKs Ebola response.

And last year, as Deputy Chief Medical Officer, shes delivered the shielding programme which is both incredibly sensitive and has been superbly delivered.

Dr Harries distinguished career as both a public health physician, and crucially, as a public health leader, make her impeccably qualified for this role.

Im also delighted that Ian Peters has accepted the position as UKHSAs Chair.

Under Ians leadership as Chairman of Barts, that NHS trust has built an impressive track record in the life sciences with a combination of private sector, academic and government capability that is so important in delivering excellence at scale.

Ian brings his extensive experience of leadership in the public and private sector to this crucial task.

Im looking forward very much to working with them both.

And I want to say a word about how UKHSA will operate and what its culture will be. Because UKHSAs task is to be vigilant, yes. And to engage in scientific excellence.

But it also must be open, dynamic and confident and reach out to work with partners wherever it finds them. This isnt just an agency. Its job is to provide professional leadership in the field here and around the world.

General Stanley McChrystal once said: Anyone who has ever played or watched sports knows that instinctive, cooperative adaptability is essential to high-performing teams.

And that is what UKHSA will be all about.

UKHSA will be an essential partner for us all leading on health security for the whole of the United Kingdom collaborating with devolved administrations and th



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