The Health Protection Agency (HPA), originally established as an NHS special health authority in 2003, it is now a non-departmental public body charged with protecting the health and well-being of United Kingdom citizens from infectious diseases, and with preventing harm and reducing impacts when hazards involving chemicals, poisons or radiation occur. On April 1, 2005, the Agency was established as a non-departmental public body, replacing the HPA SpHA and the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB).
The origins of the HPA's largest facility in Porton Down can be traced back to 1940, when Porton had a highly secret and independent 'Biology Department' under the Ministry of Defence to study biological warfare and defence against it. It was called the 'Microbiological Research Department' (by 1946), and subsequently the 'Microbiological Research Establishment' (from 1951) with research becoming increasingly defensive and civilian in nature. Total civilian control was established by moving biological defence work to the Chemical Defence Establishment (now ), and renaming the facility from 1 April 1979 as the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research (CAMR) within the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS). In April 1994, CAMR moved from PHLS centre to the Microbiological Research Authority (MRA), reporting to the Department of Health and still continuing the programme in civil microbiological research started in 1979.
Microbiology Services is still the biggest of the four Divisions within the HPA with 1800 staff, consisting of laboratory groups from the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, the Centre for Infections, the eight regional microbiology laboratories and 37 collaborating hospital laboratories. Together, these laboratories provide frontline diagnostic and public health microbiology services to NHS trusts and HPA health protection units. Its remit includes infectious disease surveillance, providing specialist and reference microbiology and microbial epidemiology, coordinating the investigation and cause of national and uncommon outbreaks, helping advise government on the risks posed by various infections and responding to international health alerts. In addition, both basic and applied research is undertaken into understanding infectious diseases and the group manufactures a number of healthcare products, including vaccines and therapeutics. For instance, the HPA is the sole licensed manufacturer of the anthrax vaccine in the UK .
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