Job description reveals UK's new public health chief doesn't need health expertise

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 5, 2020: Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the BBC before appearing on the Andrew Marr Show. London, Great Britain, 05 Jul 2020 David Nash / Barcroft Media- PHOTOGRAPH BY David Nash / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read David Nash/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
The chief executive of the new National Institute for Health Protection, formed by Matt Hancock last week, doesn't need experience leading a health body. (David Nash/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

The leader of the government’s new public health body created to fight the coronavirus does not need experience of leading a health organisation.

The chief executive of the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) will “play a central role” in the UK’s COVID-19 response, as well as building the nation’s long-term health protection strategy, “advising the highest levels of government”.

However, the job specification for the role only says prior experience of leading a health or scientific body is “ideal”. The introduction to the candidate profile reads:

“The successful candidate will have a proven track record as a successful chief executive, or equivalent, of a significant organisation with a large headcount and a combination of physical and digital operations, ideally in the health or life sciences or potentially from a consumer or citizen-facing sectors, where multi-channel face-to-face and digital/ecommerce are both critical channels to market.

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“They will demonstrate an understanding of, and experience in, fast moving digital organisations with insight into how data, science and technology act as enablers in delivering best in class citizens services.”

The salary for the position is not provided, only that it’s in “SCS [senior civil servant] Pay Band 4”. Yahoo News UK asked the Department of Health what pay range this is, but a spokesman would only say the salary “will depend on experience”.

According to the Institute for Government think tank, the maximum pay band for senior civil servants is £265,000.

Matt Hancock announced the creation of the NIHP last week as the health secretary axed Public Health England (PHE).

The government says it wants to “combine the infrastructure established to deal with COVID-19, known as NHS Test and Trace, with PHE” in order to “control infectious disease and deal with pandemics or health protection crises”.

The NIHP’s interim chief executive is Baroness Dido Harding, a Conservative peer who has no experience leading a health organisation.

Her appointment has already been criticised, with Labour MP Jess Philips saying: “What the hell does Dido Harding know about cervical screening, substance misuse, sexual health, contraception, smoking cessation, obesity or even pandemic planning?”

Baroness Harding also leads the NHS Test and Trace scheme, which launched exactly three months ago. Since then, the government has faced serious questions about the programme’s effectiveness.

In this photo issued by 10 Downing Street,  Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace, Baroness Dido Harding, left and Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock take part in a coronavirus media briefing in Downing Street, London, Thursday June 11, 2020. (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street via AP)
Baroness Harding and Matt Hancock at a Downing Street press conference in June. (10 Downing Street via AP)

According to the latest figures released on Thursday, Test and Trace failed to reach its 80% target for the ninth week in a row.

Only 75.5% of close contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in England were reached in the week ending 19 August. Hancock said on Thursday that “we’re nearly there but not quite there”.

Much of Baroness Harding’s background is in private sector business.

In 2015, she was the chief executive of TalkTalk when the telecoms giant suffered a massive cyber attack as hackers accessed 157,000 customers’ details, including bank account numbers. The breach ultimately cost the company an estimated £77m.

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Before that, Baroness Harding held senior roles at Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

A jockey and racehorse owner, she has also served on the board of Cheltenham Racecourse.

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