Health Protection is a term used to encompass a set of activities within public health. It is defined as protecting individual, groups and populations from single cases of infectious disease, incidents and outbreaks, and non-infectious environmental hazards such as chemicals and radiation.
Health protection is one of the responsibilities of Public Health England (PHE). It is a broad and versatile field requiring specialist knowledge and skills provided by a multidisciplinary team. It has been given an increasing profile in recent years following the polonium 210 incident, pandemic flu and more recently SARS-CoV2 and COVID-19 disease.
Health protection is dynamic and responsive to the current health needs of the population. Management of issues such as the Zika and Ebola, hospital acquired infections and tackling antibiotic resistance and of course the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health protection services are on hand to deal with outbreak situations and monitor the emergence of diseases not previously seen in the UK, COVID-19 disease but also Ebola and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) before this. We continue to manage on-going infections with historically well-known diseases such as measles and tuberculosis, and observing the effect that immunisation is having on diseases such as meningitis.
What do health protection teams (HPT) do?
An HPT is a multidisciplinary team consisting of, nurses, practitioners, doctors, surveillance and administrative staff who work closely with colleagues in PHE, environmental health departments, hospital microbiologists and infection and prevention control teams, GPs, community specialists and educational institutions.
The teams are split regionally to provide services locally according to the epidemiological needs. Each team provides local specialist support to prevent and reduce the impact of infectious diseases, hazards, and major emergencies. They are involved in surveillance and monitoring of infectious diseases, strategic health protection work, emergency planning and operational support in addition to education and training, both for health care professionals and the general public. Some of the key areas of expertise include immunisation, gastrointestinal infections, water borne diseases, environmental hazards, travel associated infections, and infection control/hospital acquired infections and respiratory infections including tuberculosis.
Every HPT has an on-call service which provides support to healthcare professionals and members of the public and responds to notifications of infectious disease and any health protection needs.
Notification of infectious disease (NOIDS)
Registered medical practitioners (RMPs) have a statutory duty to notify the Proper Officer via the local HPT of suspected or confirmed cases of certain infectious diseases. There are 32 notifiable diseases and 60 causative agents. The PHE website contains details of where you can find your local health protection team, notification forms and the list of notifiable diseases. The attending RMP should fill out a notification form immediately on diagnosis of a suspected notifiable disease and should not wait for laboratory confirmation before notification. The notification form should be sent to the Proper Officer within three days or notified verbally within 24 hours if the case is considered urgent. Prompt notification will ensure that health protection interventions and control measures can be initiated as soon as possible.
Download this poster from PHE for guidance and information on notifiable diseases and how notifications should be made.
Group A streptococcal infections / Scarlet Fever
- UKSHA. Group A streptococcal infections: report on seasonal activity in England, 2022 to 2023
- UKSHA. Press release: UKHSA update on scarlet fever and invasive Group A strep
- NICE. Management of scarlet fever.
Further resources to support management of Group A streptococcal infections
- The UK Sepsis Trust. Out of hours telephone triage
- The UK Sepsis Trust. General practice screening and action tools
- The UK Sepsis Trust. Spotting sepsis in children (PDF)
- UKSHA. Scarlet fever: symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
- East Midlands Emergency Medicine Educational Media (#EM3). Lightning Learning: Scarlet Fever.
This is a rapidly evolving situation which we are monitoring carefully, the advice is being updated as new information is received. It is essential to use the links provided and make sure you are looking at the most current advice. As information is changing all the time please refer to online guidance.
For travel advice, please see:
- Department of Health Northern Ireland: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO): Travel advice: coronavirus (COVID-19). Guidance for British people travelling overseas during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
- Public Health Scotland (PHS): Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Public Health Scotland (PHS), Fitfortravel: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Advice for travellers
- NaTHNaC, PHE and FCDO. Current COVID-19 advice with links to international information sources (2 October 2020)
- NaTHNaC. COVID-19. General advice for travellers
- NHS Scotland. Fitfortravel - COVID-19: Health Considerations for Travel
- Public Health Wales: Statement on Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
- Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Faculty of Travel Medicine. The operational delivery of travel health services in the UK in light of the COVID-19 pandemic
- The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC): TravelHealthPro
- TravelHealthPro. COVID-19 resources for healthcare professionals and travellers. Resources include information from NaTHNaC, PHE and the FCDO with links to international information.
Case study: why notify a case of measles?
The following case study is an example as to why it’s important to notify cases in a timely fashion.
Measles is highly infectious vaccine preventable infection. One in every ten children who catch measles need hospital care and the disease can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis.
The HPT will conduct a public health risk assessment for the case and those who have potentially come into contact with the disease. If the notification is made promptly the HPT can:
- Attempt to prevent future cases, by advising measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination to unvaccinated or partially vaccinated contacts. As vaccine-induced measles antibodies develop more rapidly than that following natural infection, MMR vaccine should be used to protect susceptible contacts from suspected measles which needs to occur with 72 hours of contact.
- Advise other vulnerable contacts (babies under six months, pregnant women and immunosuppressed individuals) and identify if there is a need for rapid testing of the index case, as well as checking the antibody status of the contact. This risk assessment needs to happen as soon as possible to ensure that if human immunoglobulin is required, to provide protective antibodies to prevent or attenuate infection, it can be given within six days.
- Advise contacts more widely in an attempt to prevent tertiary cases, for example sending letters to parents or other patients who may have been in the same waiting room as the case for over fifteen minutes, alerting them to the contact and the need to confirm MMR status with a health care provider and if unvaccinated or partially vaccinated to seek an MMR vaccination as soon as possible.
Early notification can help the HPT take public health actions to prevent further cases.
Health protection resource
Public Health England. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) whole genome sequencing. Public Health England (PHE) has developed the first ever clinically validated whole genome sequencing test for Hepatitis C virus (HCV) as part of a global effort to eliminate HCV by 2025. PHE will be the first place in the UK to offer a clinically validated test which looks at both viral strain and resistance in one test. This enables clinicians to provide patients with quicker access to curative treatment plans.
Contacting a health protection team
Page last updated - 29/06/2023