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Why Sir Patrick Vallance considers APHA an important asset to the UK

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Group image with the words, "Guest Blog, Sir Patrick Vallance"
Photo left to right: Colin Dingwall, Kath Webster, Ian Brown, Patrick Vallance, Gideon Henderson, Yvonne Spencer, Christine Middlemiss, Maria Baker, Charlotte Caplan, Laura Green, Tim Houghton

In this blog we hear from Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, as he recently joined APHA’s Chief Executive Officer, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer and Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser at APHA’s headquarters at Weybridge to learn more about the importance of APHA’s scientific expertise and redevelopment, as the UK government’s primary capability for animal health science.

Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs) play an important and often under-recognised role in the UK’s science, research, development and innovation landscape, and they are crucial for providing science for policy and operations for government. I have visited many PSREs during my time as Government Chief Scientific Adviser and was delighted to visit the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Weybridge site in November.

APHA’s CEO, David Holdsworth, gave an overview and I was joined by Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer and Gideon Henderson, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra)’s Chief Scientific Adviser. David set the agency in the wider context of UK One Health, an initiative which considers human health, animal health, agriculture, and environmental sectors holistically. He described how the agency delivers on biosecurity, trade and food safety & security, as well as how it provides science advice to support policy.

Image of a gentleman talking about some posters next to him to another gentleman
APHA’s Professor Tony Fooks sharing the importance and breadth of our international reach

APHA’s Yvonne Spencer then gave an overview of the extensive range of national and international partners they engage with, including academic links and interactions with other government departments. The breadth is both impressive and important. A feature of science is that it is always open to challenge, and a broad base of partners ensures that challenge comes from diversity.

It is clear that APHA is respected around the world and provides important services globally.

I particularly enjoyed hearing from some of the UK’s leading specialists in animal health, ranging from avian flu through to tuberculosis (TB) to antimicrobial resistance (AMR). APHA has access to deep expertise and has developed the capability to adapt and respond to emerging animal health risks.

The way in which the organisation was able to step in to help during the COVID-19 pandemic was impressive and greatly appreciated.

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APHA’s Phil Hogarth talking about our work on TB

My visit marked the start of World Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2022, so it was timely that part of our tour included a presentation from APHA scientist, Muna Anjum, on the work ongoing at APHA on AMR. AMR is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development, which cannot be managed effectively without considering the health outcomes of humans, animals and the environment together.

This is why the ‘One Health’ basis which APHA adopts is vital, uniting with partners across government and wider to prevent AMR.

Of course, it was also timely to hear about APHA’s efforts to tackle the ongoing outbreak of avian influenza. It was an opportunity to discuss how to ensure that we have the broadest scientific input to help understand the outbreak trajectory and potential mitigation.     


Finally, I was excited to see the plans to redevelop existing facilities and construct a new Science Hub at Weybridge. The investment and redevelopment of these facilities is essential and will ensure that this site continues to be crucial in protecting the UK from animal disease and future outbreaks. 

A new facility, strong links with industry and fostering the expert science community on site will make sure that APHA remains an important asset to the UK.

“I am so pleased that we were able to host Sir Patrick at Weybridge and also that we were able to make the links for him between what we do in the APHA Science Directorate and the wider efforts of the Agency, from field, at the border and inland, to giving advice and supporting policy and devolved governments.We also spoke about how APHA forms a wider One Health System with colleagues in other government departments. I know we will continue to form stronger links with the cross-government science community and beyond into academia and industry. Dr Jenny Stewart, APHA’s Director of Science and Transformation. With image of a female.
Dr Jenny Stewart, Director of Science and Transformation, APHA

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