Dido Harding to run agency replacing Public Health England


Summary generated on August 18, 2020

    Dido Harding, a Conservative peer who heads up England's widely criticised test-and-trace system, has been chosen to run a new institute to replace Public Health England, after the controversial decision to axe the agency.

    Harding will be named as the chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, which will be charged with preventing future outbreaks of infectious diseases, despite the poor performance of NHS test and trace, which she has led since May. Her appointment, which the health secretary, Matt Hancock, is due to confirm on Tuesday in a speech on the future of public health as a result of the pandemic, has sparked a row over yet another Tory politician being handed a senior role in the health system.

    The government's decision to scrap PHE was first reported on Sunday and prompted a chorus of criticism that Boris Johnson's administration was trying to shift the blame for its own failings during the pandemic.

    Lady Harding, 52, has been a Conservative member of the House of Lords since she was given a life peerage in 2014 by her friend David Cameron, the then prime minister.

    Harding, an ex-chief executive of the TalkTalk mobile phone company, is already the chair of the regulator NHS Improvement as well as the contact-tracing programme that is under fire for tracking down too few people who have tested positive for the virus.

    "Given Dido Harding's track record overseeing the set-up of England's sub-par test-and-trace system, many people will be worried to hear that she may be given a pivotal new role in the NHS," said the Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson, the party's health, wellbeing and social care spokesperson.

    "We need to have total transparency in how appointments of this kind are made, to ensure we get the best people for the job."Rather than focus on promoting yet another Tory insider, the government would do well to reflect on their handling of this pandemic and launch an independent inquiry to ensure we don't repeat past mistakes.

    " Labour has criticised the "huge holes in the contact-tracing system" in England, which is supposed to trace those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 and ask them to self-isolate.

    Test and trace has a £10bn budget and the private firms Serco and Sitel are centrally involved.

    It has only contacted 78% of people diagnosed with the virus, and 72% of their contacts, since its creation in May, the organisation's latest performance figures show.

    Contact tracing is one of the most basic planks of public health responses to a pandemic.