Publication Health and Care Machinery of government 3 August, 2023

Health security from the ground up: 5 lessons for the future of the UKHSA

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There were many strengths to the nation’s COVID-19 response, from the development of the vaccine to the resilience of healthcare workers on the frontline. However, in other ways the response was critically flawed. By adopting an overly centralised approach in England, local public health resources and expertise were woefully underutilised, hampering efforts to tackle the virus. 

With the abolition of Public Health England, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has taken on responsibility for tackling future health hazards. Having just published its ten-year science strategy, now is the time to embed the lessons from the pandemic in the Agency’s approach. 

This paper explores the shortcomings in the English response to COVID-19 and presents five policy ideas which would help strengthen the UKHSA and improve the UK’s resilience in the face of future health crises 

 The report presents five policy ideas: 

  • UKHSA should run simulation exercises to test its new data and analytics platform, ensuring that data is shared between national and local levels in a future crisis.
  • UKHSA should adopt an iterative approach to the production of its national threat response planning documents, via a process of open scrutiny and challenge. This should include publication of draft versions, sufficient opportunity for feedback and challenge from interested external parties, and a commitment to revise accordingly before any final planning documents are agreed.
  • UKHSA should work with OHID and local actors to strengthen Community Champions networks, via a new training and development hub for volunteers in these roles
  • UKHSA should expand its Science and Research Committee to include standing positions for a behavioural science expert, a senior representative from the Association of Directors of Public Health, and a senior leader from OHID.
  • UKHSA should evaluate how other countries tackle health security threats (with an emphasis on identifying best practice in local-national working) and produce a roadmap for moving the agency towards a less centralised model.

Health security from the ground up: 5 lessons for the future of the UKHSA was kindly supported by Moderna.