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The Office of Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) officially launched on 1 October 2021 as part of a wider Government restructure of national public health bodies in England.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) took on the role of Public Health England (PHE), NHS Test and Trace, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) in planning for and responding to infectious diseases. Its chief executive is the former Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries. The UKHSA was previously known as the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).

On 1 October the health improvement responsibilities of PHE formally moved to OHID.

OHID, which was previously known as the Office for Health Promotion, will co-ordinate central and local government, the NHS and wider society to promote improvements in the public’s health.

OHID is a part of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), under the professional leadership of the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty. As the new Deputy Chief Medical Officer (DCMO), Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy will advise government on clinical and public health matters as the co-lead for OHID, alongside the DHSC Director General for Public Health, Jonathan Marron. Dr de Gruchy was previously the President of the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH).

Some other public health functions of PHE will transfer to other new homes within the health system, at DHSC and NHS England.

Providing a rationale for the changes, the Government referred to the challenges and lessons learned in responding to the pandemic, and particularly the extent to which Covid-19 exposed long-standing health inequalities. In a policy paper on its public health reforms published in March 2021, the Government explained its rationale for the creation of the two new bodies:

Since 2013, national responsibilities for health security and health improvement have sat together within a single body, Public Health England (PHE). To ensure we have a public health system fit for the future, we are ensuring that going forward both health security and health improvement have their own clear, dedicated focus at national level. By giving each the focus it deserves, and carefully managing the important interdependencies between these elements of our overall public health system, we can do both better.

In a speech on 16 September 2021 the Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there were three priorities he wanted OHID to work on; preventing poor mental and physical health, addressing health inequalities and improving access to health services, and working with partners within and outside of government to respond to wider health determinants.

This briefing is primarily concerned with the reform of national public health bodies in England, although the UKHSA’s role does extend to the whole of the UK. There are separate organisations with responsibility for public health in the rest of the UK: Health Protection ScotlandPublic Health Wales, and the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

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