Cameron’s Crony Baroness Dido Harding: To run agency replacing Public Health England

Cameron's crony Baroness Dido Harding

Tory’s rewarding failure, you have to wonder why…

Baroness Dido Harding, a Conservative peer who heads up England’s widely criticised test-and-trace system, is to run the new institute that will replace Public Health England, after the controversial decision to axe the agency.

Harding will be named as the chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, which will be charged with preventing future outbreaks of infectious diseases, despite the poor performance of NHS test and trace, which she has led since May.

Her appointment, which the health secretary, Matt Hancock, is due to confirm on Tuesday in a speech on the future of public health as a result of the pandemic, has sparked a row over yet another Tory politician being handed a senior role in the health system.

The former TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding, is married to John Penrose, a Tory MP and former minister.

John Penrose sits on the advisory board of think tank “1828”, which “calls for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance system and for Public Health England to be scrapped.

Baroness Dido Harding, who runs the failing NHS Test and Trace system in England, is to be the interim chief of the government’s new Health Protection Institute.

Lady Harding will run the new institute until a permanent appointment is made.

PHE has come under intense scrutiny of its response to the coronavirus crisis.

It has been criticised for the controversial decision in March to halt community testing and tracing of contacts.

But its defenders say it is being made a scapegoat for failures elsewhere in the government.

Baroness Dido Harding at a glance

  • Screwed up test-and-trace
  • Lost 4m customers’ bank details to a hack costing Talk Talk £60m
  • Served on Jockey Club which opened Cheltenham in a pandemic 
  • Tory MP husband wants to scrap #NHS 
  • Got a peerage from friend Cameron

In August 2014, Dido was offered a peerage and sits in the House of Lords as a Conservative peer.

Harding, a Conservative life peer, was CEO of TalkTalk between 2010 and 2017 before becoming chair of NHS Improvement, overseeing all NHS trusts and hospitals.

But she is best known for the controversy surrounding her handling of the 2015 cyberattack that exposed the financial records of thousands of TalkTalk customers.

The personal details of almost 157,000 customers were stolen, including names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. The bank numbers and sort codes of nearly 16,000 people were also accessed by the hackers, as well as the obscured credit and debit card numbers of a further 28,000.

Harding was forced to admit that not all customers’ data was encrypted, including some bank details. She also demonstrated an apparent lack of understanding about how the hack could have happened in early interviews, sparking the criticism that she was “naive” and even “ignorant”.

The company admitted the incident had cost it £60 million and lost it, 95,000 customers.

Baroness Dido Harding has shown an amazing amount of incompetence leaving many to wonder why such rewards are lavished on a Tory peer whose husband sits on a think tank that wants to privatise the NHS

“Given Dido Harding’s track record overseeing the set-up of England’s sub-par test-and-trace system, many people will be worried to hear that she may be given a pivotal new role in the NHS,” said the Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson, the party’s health, wellbeing and social care spokesperson.

“We need to have total transparency in how appointments of this kind are made, to ensure we get the best people for the job.

“Rather than focus on promoting yet another Tory insider, the government would do well to reflect on their handling of this pandemic and launch an independent inquiry to ensure we don’t repeat past mistakes.”

Labour has criticised the “huge holes in the contact-tracing system” in England, which is supposed to trace those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 and ask them to self-isolate. Test and trace has a £10bn budget and the private firms Serco and Sitel are centrally involved. However, it has only contacted 78% of people diagnosed with the virus, and 72% of their contacts, since its creation in May, the organisation’s latest performance figures show.


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