Jenny Harries

Dame Jennifer Margaret Harries DBE is a British public health physician who has been the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency and head of NHS Test and Trace since April 2021. She was previously a regional director at Public Health England, and then Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England from June 2019 to April 2021.

Jennifer Margaret Harries
Jenny Harries.jpg
Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency
Head of NHS Test and Trace
Assumed office
1 April 2021
Prime MinisterBoris Johnson
Preceded byDido Harding (Acting)
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England
In office
7 June 2019 – 31 March 2021
Serving with Jonathan Van-Tam (from 2017)[1]
Aidan Fowler (from 2020)[2]
Preceded byGina Radford
Succeeded byDr Thomas Waite (Interim)[3]
Personal details
BornWatford, Hertfordshire, England
EducationHaberdashers' Monmouth School for Girls
Alma materUniversity of Birmingham
ProfessionPublic health physician[4]

Early life and educationEdit

Born in Monmouth,[5] Harries studied medicine at the University of Birmingham gaining an intercalated BSc in pharmacology in 1981 and medical degrees, MB ChB, in 1984.[4][6][7]


Harries was Regional Director for the South of England for Public Health England from February 2013 before being appointed Deputy Chief Medical officer for England in June 2019.[8][9] The appointment of a new Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty was announced simultaneously.[10]

At a press conference with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (20 March 2020)

Effective 1 April 2021, Harries was appointed as the first chief executive of the new UK Health Security Agency, which combines Public Health England and England's NHS Test and Trace.[11]

She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours[12] and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2022 New Year Honours for services to health.[13][14][15]

Role in the UK government response to the COVID-19 pandemicEdit

Harries appeared at some of the daily press conferences held by the UK government to provide updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. She contributed medical information and answered questions from the press,[16] however some of her statements, including suggesting that those receiving fake virus-tracing phone calls could identify them from the tone of the conversation, or that the UK had a "perfectly adequate supply of PPE", met with controversy and calls by scientists such as Professor Anthony Costello, director of University College London's Institute for Global Health, for her to resign.[17][18]

In early March 2020, Harries stated "the virus will not survive very long outside," and "many outdoor events, particularly, are relatively safe,"[19] and warned that it was "not a good idea" for members of the public to wear a mask in which the virus could get trapped, thus increasing the risk of infection.[20] Cheltenham Festival, a four-day event started weeks later and attended by about 150,000 people, was referred to in the following month by Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, as "the best possible way to accelerate the spread of the virus".[21]

Harries suggested in March 2020 that the World Health Organization (WHO)'s advice to "test, test, test" people for COVID-19 and trace their contacts was primarily intended for countries that were less well developed than the UK, arguing that "there comes a point in a pandemic where that is not an appropriate intervention": "The clue for WHO is in its title. It is a World Health Organisation and it is addressing all countries across the world with entirely different health infrastructures and particularly public health infrastructures. We have an extremely well-developed public health system in this country and in fact our public health teams actually train others abroad. So the point there is that they are addressing every country, including low- and middle-income countries, so encouraging all countries to test of some type," Harries said; other highly developed countries remained committed to extensive testing and experienced fewer deaths.[22][23][24]

Harries also suggested that the risk of flu or road accident was higher than that posed by COVID-19 for schoolchildren.[25]

In December 2021, The Telegraph reported that it was understood that Harries was the source of a contested figure that there was an average 17-day delay between infection and hospitalisation for COVID-19, used by Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Former Treasury statistician Simon Briscoe was quoted as saying that the figure seemed like either a "deliberate statistical sleight of hand designed to deceive, or incompetence" and that if deliberate, officials were "in effect trying to buy time, as officials realise that data of rising hospitalisations is needed to justify lockdown".[26]


  1. ^ "Professor Chris Whitty". GOV.UK. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  2. ^ "Dr Aidan Fowler". GOV.UK. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  3. ^ "New interim deputy chief medical officer for England announced". GOV.UK. UK Government. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  4. ^ a b "General Medical Register". General Medical Council. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  5. ^ Pyke, Chris (1 April 2020). "Dr Jenny Harries: 'The Welsh wizard of coronavirus communication'". Business Live. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  6. ^ "Old Joe - New Year Honours". Old Joe.
  7. ^ "CPAG member biographies". NHS. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  8. ^ "Regional Director, South of England: Dr Jenny Harries OBE". Department of Health and Social Care. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  9. ^ "New deputy chief medical officer appointed for England". Department of Health and Social Care. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  10. ^ "New chief medical officer appointed". Department of Health and Social Care. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  11. ^ "New UK Health Security Agency to lead response to future health threats". GOV.UK. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  12. ^ "Page N12 | Supplement 61450, 30 December 2015 | London Gazette | The Gazette".
  13. ^ "No. 63571". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 2022. p. N8.
  14. ^ Amos, Owen (31 December 2021). "New Year Honours: Whitty, Van-Tam and Blair knighted, Lumley and Redgrave made dames". BBC News. Retrieved 31 December 2021.
  15. ^ "2022 New Years Honour List" (PDF). 31 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ Hall, Alice (23 March 2020). "Meet Jenny Harries, the doctor talking sense in the coronavirus pandemic". The Telegraph. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  17. ^ Forrest, Adam (20 April 2020). "Coronavirus: Government's senior advisers face calls to resign over testing 'incompetence'". The Independent.
  18. ^ McGuinness, Ross (20 April 2020). "Coronavirus: Call for government's medical advisers to resign over COVID-19 testing". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 15 May 2020.
  19. ^ "Coronavirus: UK tactics defended as cases expected to rise". BBC News. 10 March 2020. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  20. ^ Gibbons, Katie (12 March 2020). "Wearing mask may increase risk of infection". The Times. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  21. ^ "Coronavirus: Cheltenham Festival 'may have accelerated' spread". BBC News. 30 April 2020. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  22. ^ Staunton, Denis (27 March 2020). "Unflappable confidence of UK's health establishment about to be tested". The Irish Times. Retrieved 24 May 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ Walker, Amy (14 April 2020). "England coronavirus testing has not risen fast enough - science chief". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 May 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  24. ^ "Coronavirus: Jenny Harries criticised for 'patronising' remark about 'exemplar preparedness'". Sky News. 20 April 2020. Retrieved 24 May 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ Patel-Carstairs, Sunita (24 August 2020). "Coronavirus: Risk of flu or road accident higher than COVID-19 for schoolchildren, says deputy CMO". Sky News. Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  26. ^ Malnick, Edward (25 December 2021). "'Dodgy data' used in push for tighter Covid restrictions". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 27 December 2021.