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Duncan Selbie's Friday message – 6 Jan 2017

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Dear everyone

Happy New Year. My first message of 2017 is also the first to be hosted on PHE’s blog, Public Health Matters, as we move to a more digital and accessible format – you may also be interested in the wealth of articles found here from colleagues across the organisation.

Public health is about people, and hearing a personal account or experience can help to remind us why our work to improve and protect people’s health is so important. Last week Dr Mary E. Black, PHE’s head of digital strategy, published a blog on the BMJ about the profound effect that smoking has had on her family and the responsibility that we all have to make the NHS a place that provides a supportive tobacco-free environment for everyone – well worth a read.

Smoking remains the largest cause of premature death and also accounts for half of the health gap between the poorest and most affluent communities. I hope that all NHS Trusts will become truly tobacco-free, which means no smoking across the NHS estate and ensuring that the treatment of tobacco dependence is fully integrated as part of routine care.

Many have already made great progress, such as Medway and South London and Maudsley, but as the recent British Thoracic Society survey showed, there is still more to do.

The festive period is usually followed by good intentions to make healthier choices, and this year PHE was there to support people with three new campaigns.

First, our new Be Food Smart app allows people to scan the barcode of more than 112,000 everyday food or drink products to see how much sugar, saturated fat and salt they contain at a glance. The app has already been used to scan more than 250,000 food and drink products and more than 3.6 million Be Food Smart information packs are being distributed to primary school children.

None of this is possible without the support of local government and all 152 upper tier local authorities are engaged, along with 40 non-government organisations and three major retailers, Asda, Aldi and the Co-op. The Be Food Smart app is sitting at number 1 in the App Store free food and drink apps, while our Sugar Smart app is close behind at number 2 and has been voted Top Digital Innovation of 2016 by Campaign magazine.

Second, we urged adults to kick off 2017 by taking the How Are You? health quiz to find out where they can take a little action to make a big difference to their health. This is vital when we know that more than 80% of 40-60 year olds are either drinking too much, inactive, overweight or obese, and it is good to see that more than 520,000 people have taken the quiz so far.

And third, our Smokefree campaign also took advantage of the New Year to encourage smokers to quit, with hard hitting TV adverts and a new film featuring children talking about the harms of smoking.  All three campaigns have achieved fantastic national media coverage across print, radio and broadcast.

Not unconnected of course, preventing Type 2 diabetes is one of the big health challenges of our time, and this year up to 50,000 more people will be offered tailored support to avoid this potentially life-threatening condition.

A new package of measures funded by NHS England includes £15 million to support further roll out of the Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme over the next two years across 13 new areas, in addition to funding a second year in the 27 sites currently up and running.

A further £45 million will be made available for local treatment and care of people with diabetes including education programmes, working with GP practices to help more patients meet NICE treatment targets, and creating new services or expanding existing ones to help improve care for people with diabetic foot disease and people with diabetes in hospital.

The European Centre for Disease Control has been developing standards for the delivery of microbiology in public health, and the recent assessment for the UK confirms the strong and effective infrastructure we have for this work - a great endorsement for our laboratory scientists and microbiologists as we begin the new year.

And finally, do take a look at the recent edition of Public Sector Focus, which features our Chief Knowledge Officer Professor John Newton giving his take on the role of digital technology to improve services and outcomes.  The challenge here is to identify the innovations that will deliver real value, and the other contributions in this volume on the digital challenge, devolution and income inequality remind us that we are not alone in considering these issues in our sector.  There is much to learn from the experiences of others and we should strive to build partnerships as widely as possible across the whole public sector.

With best wishes,


Friday messages from 2016 are available on GOV.UK

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  1. Comment by Sara furnas posted on

    Please use your influence on the govt to reduce & eradicate diesel emissions