Baroness Dido Harding has been chosen to head a new organisation responsible for dealing with pandemics.

The Conservative peer will temporarily be in charge of the National Institute for Health Protection and lead the search for a permanent successor.

Announcing the government’s plan to scrap Public Health England (PHE), Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Baroness Harding had “excellent experience” outside government and had previously worked for the NHS so “her leadership will be vital in driving this forward”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP
Hancock scraps Public Health England

But the appointment has drawn criticism, with one MP saying it was a “reward for failure”.

Baroness Harding has been leading the government’s contact-tracing programme, which aims to track down people who have tested positive for coronavirus and their close contacts.

Since its launch in May, there have been questions about its efficacy and value for money.

An accompanying NHS app has been beset by delays, with a new public trial launched only a few days ago.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock initially said the app would be available in May.

Baroness Harding’s appointment has also drawn criticism in light of the fact that her husband, Conservative MP John Penrose, is a board member of the think tank 1828.

John Penrose, MP for Weston-super-Mare, speaks at an event held by anti-corruption NGO Global Witness at Portcullis House in Westminster
Image: Baroness Harding’s husband is John Penrose, Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare

The group has in the past called for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance system.

It has also said PHE should be scrapped, according to the Daily Mirror.

Baroness Harding was head of telecoms giant TalkTalk when it suffered a huge cyber attack in 2015.

Hackers managed to access the details of 157,000 customers, including their bank account numbers.

TalkTalk was fined £400,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office over the breach, which ended up costing the company an estimated £77m.

As well as her role with the contact tracing programme, Baroness Harding is chairman of NHS Improvement.

Google and Apple have launched a coronavirus contact-tracing app. File pic
Trials of second contact-tracing app launched

She has also held senior roles at Tesco and Sainsbury’s, along with time spent at Kingfisher plc and Thomas Cook Limited.

Baroness Harding was appointed to the operating board of Sainsbury’s in 2008 after a stint at Tesco which saw her hold a variety of senior roles both in the UK and international businesses.

She has served on the board of the British Land Company plc and is a trustee of Doteveryone, as well as a member of the UK National Holocaust Foundation Board.

Baroness Harding became a peer in 2014 and has sat on the upper chamber’s Economic Affairs Committee since 2017.

She has served on the board of Cheltenham Racecourse and is a jockey and racehorse owner.

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The Cheltenham Festival went ahead earlier this year, with 15,000 people attending the event.

It ended 10 days before the coronavirus lockdown was introduced, with some saying it should not have gone ahead.

However, the government said it followed the advice that was available at the time.

And Cheltenham Racecourse’s medical director said it was not possible to know how and where people had caught COVID-19.