UKHSA unveils new strategy to prepare for and respond to health threats

The new strategy sets out UKHSA's vision and goals for the next 3 years to prepare for and respond to health threats and build the capabilities and technologies to protect the country in the future.

UKHSA was established in 2021 as a centre of scientific and operational excellence in health protection. The agency collaborates with partners in industry and academia, as well as across the NHS and wider health system to improve health security both in the UK and worldwide.

UKHSA works to protect the public against a wide range of health threats. These include infectious disease - from pathogens with pandemic potential to seasonal flu - chemical, radiation and nuclear hazards, extreme weather events and other environmental risks. UKHSA is already recognised globally for the quality, transparency and timeliness of its health protection response to real current health threats including mpox, avian influenza, heatwaves, measles and continued work to address COVID-19.

Dame Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said:

The dangers that emerging and re-emerging pathogens, environmental threats, and extreme climate pose to health should not be underestimated. It is absolutely vital that the UK's public health protection infrastructure and scientific expertise are equal to the challenge.

Through this strategic plan, UKHSA will continue to work across government, academia, and the private and voluntary sectors to keep the public safe and ensure that the UK is in the best possible position to respond to the hazards that we will face in coming years."

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a reminder of the catastrophic impact that health hazards can have on our lives and livelihoods, it has also shown the great strides that can be made when government, industry, and academia work together, developing innovative solutions and harnessing the power of data and scientific insight to drive policy and response.

The 6 strategic priorities for UKHSA laid out in the strategy are to:

1. Be ready to respond to all hazards to health

We will ensure we have the right plans, expertise, infrastructure, capabilities and countermeasures in place to mount agile and resilient responses to health security threats, including pandemics, working across the health system to develop capability for scalability and robust planning.

2. Improve health outcomes through vaccines

We will harness UKHSA's strengths across the whole vaccine pathway to facilitate innovation in the development of safe and effective vaccines, ensuring reliable procurement and increasing uptake among the population, thereby reducing the burden of infectious disease.

3. Reduce the impact of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance

We will harness our science, analytical and operational expertise to minimise the impact of infectious disease, with a focus over the next 3 years on COVID-19, antimicrobial resistance and progression of elimination targets for bloodborne viruses and tuberculosis (TB).

4. Protect health from threats in the environment

We will protect the population from the health effects of environmental, chemical, radiological and nuclear incidents of any scale by improving planning and preparedness and providing public health expertise to inform policy and response.

5. Improve action on health security through data and insight

We will maximise our partnerships and the health impact of the data we hold, the evidence we generate and the insights we draw, to be a leader in safe and regulated handling and use of public health data, analytics and surveillance.

6. Develop UKHSA as a high-performing agency

We will ensure UKHSA is ready to prepare for and respond to health security challenges by investing in our people and culture; partnerships and relationships; data, science and research and operational excellence.

The UKHSA strategy is underpinned by a commitment to deliver more equitable health outcomes. Health threats often disproportionately impact certain groups and therefore tackling health inequalities is central to UKHSA's work. We actively address this across all of our programmes, working closely with the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID).

New and emerging diseases, increased global movement and environmental change are already amplifying the health security challenges which the UK and the global community are facing. These threats, and others, are set to rise in coming years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently identified antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as one of the top 10 global public health threats - there were just under 5 million deaths associated with bacterial AMR in 2019, and this figure is predicted to double by 2050.

Exposure to environmental hazards, including chemicals, radiation, adverse weather and natural disasters results in significant ill-health and loss of life, as well as impacts on the economy and wider society. There were estimated to be almost 3,000 excess deaths during a short period of heatwaves in England in 2022. Meanwhile, air pollution contributes to up to 43,000 deaths in the UK each year and causes a range of long-term conditions, with many deprived communities disproportionately affected.

Novel and emerging diseases, like mpox and AH5N1 avian influenza, and increasing global movement exacerbate the risk of imported diseases, highlighting the need for robust pandemic preparedness plans.

Childhood immunization rates are at their lowest in a decade - to the extent that there is a risk that serious childhood diseases eliminated in the UK could resurge. Polio virus traces recently detected in London sewerage indicate that there are susceptible populations in the UK for the first time since 1984.

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