Dr Jenny Harries marked her first day as chief executive of the new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) with a visit to Colindale laboratories in North London, accompanied by Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock.
The visit, timed to mark the formal establishment of the UKHSA, focused on the work being done to help the UK understand and respond to new variants of the virus causing COVID-19, and the extensive expertise being deployed to monitor the roll-out of the vaccine programme as well as the ongoing monitoring and surveillance of the infection.
Dr Harries and the Health and Social Care Secretary spoke to the team involved in developing the original test for COVID-19, which began work as soon as reports first emerged from China.
They visited scientists working across vital elements of the pandemic response, including vaccines and serology studies to better understand how many people in the population have antibodies against coronavirus.
They also spoke to the team in the national sequencing service, where whole genome sequencing for COVID-19 takes place in order to detect new variants.
Dr Harries used the visit to highlight her ambition to boost public recognition for the vast amount of work that goes into protecting people’s health.
Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive, UKHSA said:
The new agency will work to protect the country from future health threats and ensure the nation can respond to pandemics quickly and at greater scale.
The laboratories at Colindale, which have been operating throughout the pandemic under Public Health England leadership, will transfer to the new UKHSA.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:
The primary focus for the UKHSA in its initial phase of operation will be the continued fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will bring together the country’s cutting-edge health security science capabilities, data analytics and genomic surveillance with at scale testing and contact tracing capability – combining key elements of Public Health England with NHS Test and Trace including the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
Formally established in April 2021, the UKHSA will be chaired by Ian Peters, currently Chair of Barts Health NHS Trust and former Chief Executive of British Gas, Managing Director of NatWest Small Business Services, and chairman of several data driven growth technology companies.