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Feature Profile

Dido Harding: the former business leader now heading up England’s covid-19 response

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 02 September 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3332
  1. Gareth Iacobucci, chief reporter
  1. The BMJ
  1. giacobucci{at}

What are the personal qualities, leadership style, and values of the person in the most high stakes role in health in England? Gareth Iacobucci reports

Appointed interim chair of the UK government’s National Institute for Health Protection at its inception in August, the Conservative peer Dido Harding has been handed one of the most high profile—and highly scrutinised—jobs in England.

The stakes are high: the new agency has been tasked with overseeing England’s covid-19 response, after the government’s controversial decision to disband Public Health England and merge its health protection functions with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and the NHS Test and Trace service, which Harding has led since it launched in May.12

Questions have been raised about Harding’s lack of expertise in public health and the patchy performance of Test and Trace on her watch. While she has chaired the regulator NHS Improvement since 2017, she made her name in business, rising through the ranks of the likes of the management consultancy McKinsey and Co and the supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

A turbulent spell in charge of the broadband company TalkTalk, during which it received a record £400 000 fine from the UK information commissioner for a huge data security breach, prompted the Times to describe her in August as someone who has “forged a career out of crises.”3

Harding’s appointment to lead the new agency has also prompted accusations of cronyism and nepotism: she was made a life peer in 2014 by David Cameron, with whom she studied at Oxford, and is married to the Conservative MP John Penrose, who is a board member of the think tank 1828, which has called for the NHS to be replaced by a social insurance system.4

The secretary of state for health and social services for …

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