Health & Lifestyle

UKHSA was set-up with ‘no formal governance’

UK health body created to replace beleaguered Public Health England was set-up with ‘no formal governance’ and ‘weak financial controls’, MPs claim

The UK Health Security Agency was set up with ‘no formal governance’ or the most basic financial controls in place, a damning report states.

The government body, which replaced Public Health England in April 2021, was tasked with protecting the population from threats from disease and other hazards including bio-terrorism.

But its ‘weak financial controls’ mean £3.3bn in NHS Test & Trace spending cannot be verified by proper financial records.

Meanwhile, there is no clear plan in place for a national emergency stockpile of PPE, vaccines and medicines for any future pandemic, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

Vast quantities of unusable and unneeded PPE are still in storage waiting for disposal by recycling or burning, it notes.

The government body, which replaced Public Health England in April 2021, was tasked with protecting the population from threats from disease and other hazards including bio-terrorism. Led by Dr Jenny Harries, the report criticised the appointment of a chief executive with no previous technical experience in running a complex organization

The government body, which replaced Public Health England in April 2021, was tasked with protecting the population from threats from disease and other hazards including bio-terrorism. Led by Dr Jenny Harries, the report criticised the appointment of a chief executive with no previous technical experience in running a complex organization

In March this year, officials were unable to perform proper stocktakes of PPE, estimating that doing so would involve moving and opening inaccessible piles of storage containers and cost £70 million.

But ongoing storage and disposal costs for unusable items continue to be high. In the past two years with the Department of Health writing off £9.9 billion in PPE, £2.6 billion in Covid medicines and 1.9 billion in Covid vaccines.

Led by Dame Jenny Harries, the report criticised the appointment of a chief executive with no previous technical experience in running a complex organization.

It called for robust financial controls and processes to be introduced urgently and a clear plan to deliver unqualified accounts.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said the UK Health Security Agency ‘was set up with great fanfare in 2021’, to lead protection against threats to our nation’s health.

What is the UKHSA?

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) launched on April 1, 2021 following the death of Public Health England (PHE).

Its main objective was to focus on the fight against coronavirus.

But the UKHSA is also responsible for preparing for, and responding to, future outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The body also advises the Government on biochemical attacks on the UK.

It brought together PHE, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and NHS Test and Trace.

The agency was set up under the instruction of Boris Johnson, who accused PHE of being too ‘sluggish’ in the first year of Covid.

The UKHSA is closely connected to local public health teams who have been carrying out their own contact tracing programmes.

As well as infectious diseases, the agency is responsible for running public health campaigns – including putting up posters telling Britons to stop smoking.

She said: ‘It is completely staggering, then, that an organisation envisaged as a foundation stone of our collective security was established with a leadership hamstrung by a lack of formal governance, and financial controls so poor that billions of pounds in NHS Test & Trace inventory can no longer be properly accounted for.’

She added: ‘It is greatly alarming that there is no clear plan from the Government for an emergency stockpile of vaccines, medicines and PPE.

‘Three years after the start of the pandemic, the Government still has no proper controls over the PPE stocks it already has.

‘This could leave front-line workers exposed in the future to shortages similar to those faced in 2020. 

For the Government not to make serious preparations for any future pandemic would be utterly inexcusable.’ 

Dame Jenny, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said changes had already been implemented.

She said: ‘We have always taken our accounts and financial controls very seriously. 

‘The UKHSA was created in unprecedented circumstances when tackling covid was our first priority, and we inherited significant pre-existing accounts challenges without full governance autonomy.

‘We have already instituted strong governance arrangements in a hugely complex organisation at the earliest opportunity within the controls available to us. 

‘This progress means our organisation is now substantially different in terms of stability, governance and financial controls.

‘We are working with DHSC to ensure the robustness of our accounts is recognised both now and for the future. Despite these inherited financial challenges, the UKHSA continues to fulfil its priority remit – to protect lives.’

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