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Duncan Selbie's Friday message - 29 September 2017

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Dear everyone

This week I have been in Seattle contributing to a conference celebrating a study, funded by the Gates Foundation, which started twenty years ago and has since helped transform health care policy across the globe, hugely impacting research, policy making and education. The Global Burden of Disease study (GBD) describes mortality and morbidity from major diseases, injuries and risk factors to health and crucially can be used to compare health at global, national and regional levels. The data shines a light on what kills and ails people, which is not always the same thing, and the risk factors behind them. On its own this information is important but not enough. We also need to know the causes and what can be done about them, commonly known as the social determinants.  Taken together, this study has underpinned our publication this year of the first Health Profile for England.

The profile lays out that in England, some people enjoy the best health in the world in certain geographies, yet in others people die before their time and spend more years in ill health. The data in the GBD study and that in the health profile allows us to focus our energies on the right priorities, including cardiovascular disease, air quality, mental health and health and work. The GBD study is public health science at its best and a brilliant example of where science meets policy making and the subsequent taking of practical action. Chris Murray, the director of the study and colleagues around the world are to be commended for their sustained commitment to this research.

On Wednesday the World Health Organisation said that the elimination of measles has been achieved for the first time in the UK, just a week after it was announced that England had achieved the target of 95% of children getting their mumps, measles and rubella vaccine by their fifth birthday. That figure is considered important because it ensures herd immunity, meaning the disease cannot spread because of the high level of vaccination rates.

MMR vaccination rates dipped after a panic caused by discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield, who falsely claimed in the late 1990s that the jab caused autism. The announcement does not, however, mean that measles has been wiped out. Last year there were over 500 cases in England, many linked to clusters of cases among young people going to festivals, but what was important was that the disease was not able to spread more widely. This is a huge achievement and a testament to all the hard work by our experts in PHE and health professionals in the NHS to ensure that all children and adults are fully protected with the MMR vaccine.

Our PHE marketing team regularly win the industry Oscars for outstanding work in the field of using social marketing and behavioural science to inform the public of their choices and the best evidence on which to base them. This includes messaging from sugar reduction to early signs and symptoms of cancer on digital platforms which are widely accessible, and using brands like Change4Life and OneYou. We have published our marketing Strategy for the next three years, with an introduction from Steve Brine MP, Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, setting out our priorities and how new technologies are helping to reach people in increasingly meaningful and relevant ways.  I encourage you to have a read of this.

Yesterday the New Scientist Live festival of science started in London, and this year PHE has a presence throughout the four days. Our Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (CRCE) plays a quiet, critical role in keeping the public safe. From responding to chemical incidents to testing radon levels in homes and planning for extreme weather events, their wide-ranging work is being showcased throughout. We will be sharing highlights from the event on social media and you can learn more about CRCE in our new blog.

Through their planning policies and management of affordable housing schemes and public assets such as parks, leisure and community centres, local councils play a key role in maximising the impact neighbourhoods have on our health. Colleagues from the Association of Chief Estate Surveyors (ACES) have been working with their local authority members in helping them to consider how the work they do can directly shape healthier places and benefit communities. This is an important aspect of the vast work which councils do within their health remit and will be explored through keynote addresses at their annual conference, which is taking place this week.

And finally, we are focusing with NHS England on preventing cardiovascular disease, something which I have spoken about frequently in recent times. This week we have published our Cardiovascular Disease Action Plan and please do have a look.

With best wishes,





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

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