Baroness Dido Harding set to head up new agency replacing Public Health England

18 August 2020, 11:29

Baroness Dido Harding, executive chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace, during a media briefing in Downing Street
Baroness Dido Harding, executive chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace, during a media briefing in Downing Street. Picture: PA

By Megan White

NHS Test and Trace chief Baroness Dido Harding is set to take on a new key role in the UK's efforts to tackle coronavirus, as chief of the body replacing Public Health England.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will announce on Tuesday that the Conservative peer will head the Government's new Institute for Health Protection.

The former chief executive of TalkTalk was appointed in May to lead the contact tracing programme, which relies on identifying people who have been in contact with a positive coronavirus case and getting them to self-isolate.

Since then, the programme has faced questions about performance and value for money.

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.

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.

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.

She 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 and she is a mother-of-two.

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

This year's Cheltenham Festival came under the spotlight after about 150,000 people attended the four-day event in March, which ended 10 days before lockdown measures began.

Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, said it was "the best possible way to accelerate the spread of the virus".

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The Government said it followed the advice available at the time while Cheltenham Racecourse's medical director added it was not possible to know how - and where - people had contracted the virus.

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