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HSE does not favour ‘separate’ emerging threats agency

By David Lynch - 23rd Jun 2024

threats agency

The HSE and Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) believe a new health threats agency should “not be an entirely separate entity”, the Medical Independent (MI) has been informed.

The creation of a new health threats body was a recommendation in a report from the public health reform expert advisory group (PHREAG) last year.

The nature of this new body, which will focus on future pandemics and other health threats, was discussed at the HSE safety and quality committee meeting in March.

The committee noted it was the view of the HSE/HPSC that any new body “should be established within one existing agency to ensure it is resourced and avoid duplication”, according to minutes.

Asked by MI to clarify its position, a HSE spokesperson said it believes the new threats body “should not be an entirely separate entity, but should be part of an existing agency” such as the HSE, HPSC, or another existing organisation.

In September 2023, the PHREAG presented its report to Government on Ireland’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report highlighted that Ireland’s excess mortality was among the lowest globally and that the country achieved high vaccination rates.

The report recommended strengthening the focus on public health within the Department of Health and embedding the “focus, coherence, and representation of public health in the HSE”.

The PHREAG also called for the creation of a new public health body, Public Health Ireland. According to the PHREAG, this new body would take on advisory and some operational functions relating to health protection, health promotion, and health intelligence, with an initial focus on preparedness for future pandemics and other health threats.

On publication of the PHREAG document, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said Ireland had responded “very well” to the Covid-19 pandemic, which was confirmed by the report.

“However, we must be ready for future unknown health threats. This new agency will ensure strengthened preparedness, by consolidating existing expertise across the health service together with additional resources.”

In November, the Government appointed Consultant in Infectious Diseases Prof Mary Horgan to “design a dedicated, emerging health threats function, building on existing assets and infrastructure to focus on infectious diseases, pandemic preparedness, and other emerging threats to public health”. Prof Horgan was recently appointed interim Chief Medical Officer and will take up the role in August. The Department of Health told MI it expects the recommendations of Prof Horgan’s expert working group on emerging threats to be delivered before then.

In 2023, the Irish Society of Specialists in Public Health Medicine informed MI there was “some uncertainty” within the public health community regarding “the development of an external and narrowly focused threats agency”.

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