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Duncan Selbie's Friday message - 18 May 2018

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Dear everyone

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the focus this year is on stress, which most of us have experienced or been affected by in one way or another. For some, it comes in bouts but for others, it can be a constant burden that can escalate to mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and in serious cases, self-harm and suicide. Suicide remains a tragic reality for too many people in the UK, with one person dying by suicide every 90 minutes. The concerning part is that almost two thirds of these people are not in contact with mental health services, and it is of the utmost importance that we address this.

This week, PHE, the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England have confirmed funding for the eight sustainability and transformation partnerships that are worst affected by suicide to develop prevention schemes. This is a £25 million, three year programme and is part of the national commitment to reduce suicides in England by 10% by 2021. This funding will help ensure that people are aware of the high quality confidential help that is available in their locality, and for more people to get the tailored care they need as early as possible. We need to do everything we can to offer help to those in great distress and this is a big step towards that.

On Tuesday, PHE published three dental updates including data on the levels of tooth decay in 5-year-old children across England, which showed that levels are continuing to steadily decline. Figures showed that 23.3% of 5-year-olds in England had decayed, missing or filled teeth in 2017, down from 25% in 2015. However, this is still almost a quarter of all 5-year-olds in the country and clear inequalities in oral health remain. In addition for the first time PHE reported on local authority area variations in oral health, focusing on the 30 local areas with the poorest oral health. To reduce these inequalities, local authorities should consider interventions including provision of free toothbrushes and paste, community fluoride varnish schemes and water fluoridation. PHE’s return on investment tool can help guide local authorities on which interventions are most appropriate for their population. Nationally, we are tackling the root problem of tooth decay which is excess consumption of sugary food and drinks, with our sugar reduction programme and our report of the first year results will be published soon.

We have been closely monitoring the outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and we  are actively deploying the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team (UK-PHRST), a partnership between PHE and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to support the DRC Government in helping to contain and prevent this spreading further. The West African Ebola epidemic that began in 2013 highlighted the shortcomings of the global response to major outbreaks and public health emergencies and the UK-PHRST was established by the UK Government to be on the ground anywhere in the world within 48 hours of being tasked by Ministers. Read about a previous PHE deployment during the 2013-16 Ebola outbreak here.

And finally, I would like to thank Detective Superintendent Nick Walton from West Midlands Police and Robin Brierley, Chair of the West Midlands Anti-Slavery Network, for their inspirational work in tackling health inequalities in some of the most vulnerable groups, including victims of modern slavery, child sexual exploitation, asylum seekers and refugees. They have demonstrated exceptional collaborative efforts across the health and care system including our PHE West Midlands Centre, and the Faculty of Public Health has recognised this by awarding them both with honorary membership of the Faculty for being highly visible leaders in public health. Congratulations to both of them and thank you to our colleagues in the West Midlands Centre.

Friday messages from 2012-2017 are available on GOV.UK

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