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Duncan Selbie's Friday message -22 September 2017

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Dear everyone,

This week saw more lives lost in a natural disaster in Mexico City and the UK government is heavily engaged in supporting the British overseas territories in the Caribbean in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Our thoughts go out to them and to our staff overseas led by Professor Nick Gent who is in the British Virgin Islands supporting the local response there.

Our Stoptober 2017 campaign has launched, encouraging smokers to quit smoking for 28 days as they are then 5 times more likely to quit for good. Smoking prevalence is at an all-time low, down to 15.5% of the adult population. But there are still nearly 7 million people smoking regularly and it remains the biggest cause of preventable early death. The good news is that new data published yesterday in a University College of London (UCL) report shows that quitting success rates are at their highest for at least a decade, up to 19.8% for the first six months of this year. This is significantly higher than the average for the last 10 years (15.7%). The sharp increase in success rates is being seen entirely among those less well-off. For the first time, smokers in manual occupational groups have virtually the same chances of quitting as anyone else. The campaign was launched through TV, digital, social media advertising and a media partnership with TalkSport. Along with local Stop Smoking Services, local authorities and the NHS, Stoptober is being supported by a number of commercial partners and employers.

The UK has one of the most comprehensive vaccination programmes in the world. The latest figures published on Wednesday show that coverage for 1 dose of MMR at five years has for the first time reached the World Health Organisation target of 95%.  We must continue to get the message across to parents that this is the best protection that they can obtain for their children against what remains life threatening conditions in many countries. Lest we forget, vaccination comes only second to clean water as the most effective public health intervention in the world.

Often dubbed a silent killer because there are no symptoms, the only way to know if you are at risk from a stroke or heart disease is to have a blood pressure check.  This week is Know Your Number! Week the UK’s biggest blood pressure testing and awareness event. Run by Blood Pressure UK and supported by PHE, this year's theme is Stop Stroke. High blood pressure is responsible for approximately 60% of strokes and the number of strokes among younger adults is increasing. As 9 out of 10 strokes are preventable we want people to be as familiar with their blood pressure numbers as they are with their pin number and of course then to act on this. You can find your nearest blood pressure testing centre on the One You website.

Stories promoting new diets and offering differing nutrition advice that often contradicts previous coverage on another study are a regular staple of the media news cycle. One day saturated fat might be bad for your health, the next day it is not so bad.  Most recently an international study of diets published in The Lancet led to headlines such as “Low-fat diet may increase chance of an early death”. This creates understandable confusion and misunderstanding and our chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone separates fact from fiction in her latest blog. It is well worth a read.

The number of cancers being diagnosed as an emergency presentation fell from 24% in 2006 to 20% in 2014 according to the 4th update of our Routes to Diagnosis project, a key part of England’s efforts to improve cancer survival. Routes to Diagnosis identifies eight different routes that patients take through the healthcare system before getting a cancer diagnosis. The data will help the NHS better understand how people get diagnosed, and thus where we should target the development and evaluation of early diagnosis interventions. It is the biggest collection of data of this kind in the world and by continuing to develop it we are building a unique insight into why some cancers in England are diagnosed late. Do please take a look.

And finally, the It Starts with Me campaign developed by the Terrence Higgins Trust, and commissioned by PHE, swept the board at the British Medical Association Patient Information Awards this week winning the resource of the year award and innovation category.  The campaign features a range of resources – from advertising, booklets, posters, wallet cards and an interactive website to cut new HIV infections through promoting condom use, increased testing and starting treatment. Well done to all those involved.

Friday messages from 2012-2016 are available on GOV.UK

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