The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced the launch of a new national agency to address external health threats – the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA).

The UKHSA will be led by Jenny Harries, who previously served on the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and has also worked in the NHS and local government at the local, regional and national levels.

The agency – previously announced as the National Institute for Health Protection – will plan for, prevent and respond to future health threats including infectious diseases.

It has been created to enable the UK to rapidly respond to and deal with pandemics and future health threats.

The initial phase of operation for the UKHSA will be the continued response against the COVID-19 pandemic, the DHSC said in a statement.

”The pandemic has put the UK’s health security capabilities in sharp focus and the UKHSA will change the way we approach health protection,” said Harries, incoming chief executive of UKHSA.

“With the creation of the UKHSA, we have an unprecedented opportunity to build on the scientific and operational strength that has been developed, learn from the past and further develop strong bonds with health protection leadership from global to local, to ensure we are ready for the challenges of the future,” she added.

The UKHSA will take the lead on health protection and security activity for England, taking over from Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace.

“We welcome the news of the creation of a new national agency for health security, UKHSA,” commented Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the importance of our preparedness for incoming threats to our health security, including future pandemics, and we look forward to learning more about how UKHSA will work with public health experts locally and nationally to deliver this important function,” she added.