Public Health England: Relocation to Harlow Debate

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Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Public Health England: Relocation to Harlow

Jo Churchill Excerpts
Monday 12th July 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jo Churchill Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Jo Churchill)
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I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for securing this debate and for driving home so eloquently the three core threads of his argument. I pay tribute to him, to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson), and, Madam Deputy Speaker, to you; your passion for your area overflows, and I know that you too have been acting and listening tonight for your constituents in Epping Forest.

Our experience of tackling the covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow said, the fundamental importance of an integrated health response in the United Kingdom. It has illustrated how critical it is to bring together scientific and public health expertise with operational agility. It has underlined the importance of public and private sector collaborations to deliver world-class science and innovation. Getting this right, as my right hon. Friend outlined, is critical to the future security of the nation, and it has arguably required a fundamental rethink of how the public health system and the national health service will work together.

The establishment of the UK Health Security Agency and the Office for Health Promotion are crucial to this new way of working. I am going to focus on the UK HSA, because that is the organisation that has a distinct bearing on what we are talking about this evening. Public health transformation is happening at pace and the UK HSA will be fully operational by October. It will focus on protecting the public’s health and ensuring health security for the nation. It will prevent threats by deploying the UK’s scientific, genomic and analytical capabilities to tackle infectious diseases and public health hazards such as the one we have faced in the past 18 months. It will be science-led, maintain the highest science and research standards and respond to the threats that may come upon us at pace and scale.

Our immediate priority is to manage the current delta variant while working to ensure that UK HSA has solid, firm foundations. Part of that work is to ensure that the underlying operating model for the national science hub is the right one. UK HSA is responsible for the science hub initiative. The principle remains to deliver a step change in public health science and research capabilities with genuinely world-leading facilities that, as the House would expect, we need to ensure are sustainable in every sense of the word.

I am aware that, prior to UK HSA’s creation, one of the key reasons for considering the campus at Harlow was its strategic location, as so eloquently laid out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow and his parliamentary neighbour my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford. As we heard, it is wonderfully placed in the east of England, near to major cities and close not only to the vibrant life sciences industry that my right hon. Friend spoke about but to some of the key aspects of academia.

Throughout the UK we currently have a number of leading centres for life science research and innovation. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the UK Innovation Corridor between London and Cambridge is one of the fastest growing in Europe and something of which we should be proud as a nation. It is widely recognised in the key areas of genomics and data science. With academia, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and leading multinationals we have the rich environment for academic and commercial partnerships to which my right hon. Friend referred. As we have seen in the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, such partnerships are critical to the future success of the public health response here in the United Kingdom.

As a town, Harlow has ambitious plans for the future and for levelling up. As my right hon. Friend said, it has potential to realise. That lies at the heart of the Innovation Corridor, and anchor institutions play a vital role. As my right hon. Friend said, Harlow recently won support worth over £23 million to underpin local regeneration projects. The local garden town development will bring new housing and improved transport. Further Government support is being sought that, if successful, could take investment for Harlow to over £100 million. Alongside that, the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow is at the vanguard, being one of the six hospitals in the Government’s ambitious hospital building programme. There is definitely a bright future for Harlow. The science hub programme is working with my Department to support the transformation in public health. This will take into account learning so far from the pandemic response and the implementation of the UK Health Security Agency.

In conclusion, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow on his judicious timing of this debate, coming as it does ahead of recess and in the run-up to the official establishment of the UK Health Security Agency in October. I know that his backing for science to be centred in Harlow will be heard and I am sure that we will go on to have further discussions on this interesting topic.

Question put and agreed to.