Baroness Dido Harding to lead new health agency amid reports Public Health England will be axed

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  • August 17, 2020
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Baroness Dido Harding is set to be appointed as the interim chief of the Government’s new Health Protection Institute.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will reportedly announce on Tuesday that Baroness Harding will head the Government’s new Institute for Health Protection, which will replace Public Health England.

The former chief executive of TalkTalk and Conservative peer currently runs NHS England’s Test and Trace scheme which has faced questions about performance and value of money during the coronavirus pandemic.

An NHS app was said to be key to the scheme but has been beset by delays, with the launch of a new public trial announced just days ago.

Mr Hancock first suggested the app would be available in mid-May, but the Government ditched efforts to develop its own technology in June amid accuracy issues and concerns about privacy.

It comes as the Health Secretary is due to deliver a speech about the future of Public Health England (PHE) at the think tank Policy Exchange on Tuesday.

The Government has faced criticism over the prospect of breaking up the health body in the middle of a pandemic and ministers have also been accused of using PHE as a “scapegoat” for other failings in the Covid-19 crisis.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to deliver a speech at the think tank Policy Exchange titled The Future of Public Health (PA)

On Monday, the boss of the embattled organisation apologised to staff that news of the demise of the organisation was leaked.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said he was “sorry beyond words” the future of the body was briefed to the media before his staff were told.

A story placed with The Sunday Telegraph suggests that the Covid-19 response work of PHE is to be merged with NHS Test and Trace to form a new body designed specifically to deal with pandemics.

Baroness Harding led telecoms giant TalkTalk when it suffered a massive cyber attack in October 2015 when hackers accessed 157,000 customers’ details, including bank account numbers.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) fined TalkTalk £400,000 over the breach, which ultimately cost the company an estimated £77 million.

Public Health England warn of increased risk for those overweight

The ICO issued TalkTalk with a record fine in 2016 for security failings that it said had allowed customers’ data including some 15,656 bank account numbers to be accessed “with ease”.

Baroness Harding is currently chairman of NHS Improvement and has held senior roles at Tesco and Sainsbury’s during her career.

She was appointed to the Sainsbury’s operating board in March 2008 after a stint at Tesco where she held a variety of senior roles both in the UK and international businesses.

Her retail experience was boosted by her time working at Kingfisher plc and Thomas Cook Limited.

The mother-of-two has also served on the board of the British Land Company plc and is a trustee of Doteveryone and a member of the UK National Holocaust Foundation Board.

She became a peer in August 2014 and has sat on the Economic Affairs Committee of the Lords since July 2017.

Her husband is the Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare John Penrose.

Away from the worlds of politics and business, she is a jockey and racehorse owner who has served on the board of Cheltenham Racecourse.

Additional reporting by PA Media.