Tuesday, 29 Sep 2020

Hancock launches shake-up to health system to fight COVID-19 – but issues urgent warning

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Speaking at the Policy Exchange think tank, Matt Hancock said: “We are making the change now because we must do everything we can to fulfil our responsibilities to the public, to strengthen public health in the UK.” The Health Secretary added: “The changes that I am announcing today are designed entirely to strengthen our response.” He said the new organisation will have a single mission of “protecting people from external threats to this country’s health”.

Mr Hancock added: “To give ourselves the best chance of beating this virus and spotting and tackling other external health threats now and in the future, we need to bring together the science and the skill into one coherent whole.

“So, today, I am announcing that we are forming a new organisation, the National Institute for Health Protection.

“The National Institute for Health Protection will have a single and relentless mission: protecting people from external threats to this country’s health. External threats like biological weapons, pandemics and, of course, infectious diseases of all kinds.”

The Health Secretary said his biggest fear was another health crisis emerging while the world was still dealing with COVID-19.

He said: “My single biggest fear is a novel flu, or another major health alert, hitting us right now in the middle of this battle against coronavirus.

“Even once this crisis has passed – and it will pass – we need a disease control infrastructure that gives us the permanent, standing capacity to respond as a nation and the ability to scale up at pace.”

Mr Hancock said the new institute will play a role across the UK and be dedicated “to the investigation and prevention of infectious diseases and external health threats”.

He said: “The National Institute for Health Protection will also work closely with the devolved administrations, taking on existing UK-wide responsibilities and supporting all four chief medical officers with access to the best scientific and analytical advice.

“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.”

The National Institute for Health Protection will combine the existing “talent and science infrastructure” with NHS Test and Trace and the work of the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

Mr Hancock added: “It will combine our world-class talent and science infrastructure with the growing response capabilities of NHS Test and Trace and the sophisticated analytic capability we are building in the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

“Of course, these institutions work incredibly closely today, but I want that integration to be seamless.

“Crucially, this will be a national institution that works very much locally, working with local directors of public health and their teams who are, in my opinion, the unsung heroes of health protection.”

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The Tory frontbencher said he will consult on how health improvement can be embedded in the system, with obesity linked to an increased risk from coronavirus.

He said: “Of course the two are linked, protection and prevention, we’ve seen how conditions like obesity can increase the risk for those who have coronavirus.

“We will use this moment to consult widely on how we can embed health improvement more deeply across the board and I’ll be saying more on this over the coming weeks.

“This will in turn allow the National Institute for Health Protection to focus, focus, focus on the science and the scale needed for pandemic response.”

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