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Duncan Selbie's Friday message - 6 July 2018

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Dear everyone

You will all be aware of the ongoing incident in Amesbury, Wiltshire, in relation to two people who have fallen ill from contact with nerve agent Novichok. Our thoughts are with the two people affected, those close to them and everyone in Salisbury and surrounding areas who will understandably be concerned by this latest event. PHE has a team of health protection experts working around the clock locally and nationally to support the police and Wiltshire Local Authority in response to the incident.  Our current advice is that the risk to the general public remains low and we are keeping this and the developing situation under constant review.

Each year PHE has an annual accountability review and this took place on Tuesday, with Steve Brine MP, Minister for Public Health and Primary Care. We covered a broad range of priorities and performance, from our local impact to our national and international responsibilities. In any given week our eclectic work can range from obesity in England to Ebola in the Congo and everything in between. The Minister conveyed his warm thanks and appreciation to PHE staff for all they do, often quietly and unseen, and underlined the importance of our expertise to keeping the UK safe at home and overseas.

Our most cherished British institution celebrated turning seventy this week. The upcoming ten year plan for the NHS is a huge opportunity to secure its future, which was the theme of my speech at this week’s annual Local Government Association Conference. We must of course treat illness, but even smarter is to prevent it. With 40% of all poor health being preventable and 60% of 60 year olds experiencing at least one long term condition this has to be a primary objective. Local Government has long standing expertise in the importance of prevention and they must be at the heart of the ten year plan; there is no sustainable future for the NHS without them.

On Tuesday new PHE and ONS smoking prevalence figures for England showed that rates have dipped below 15% for the first time representing a near quarter reduction over the past five years. Notwithstanding, smoking remains the nation’s biggest killer and there is still much to do to achieve the first-ever smoke-free generation in England. You can find out more in our blog and see the report and data here.

Health Profiles have now been refreshed for 2018, providing a summary picture of health for each Local Authority. These are intended to act as conversation starters, giving those in local government and the local NHS the data they need to decide on their local priorities. To help with this we have published a guide on how to interpret the reports, which you can find here.

Also this week, PHE and the Centre for Better Ageing published an evidence review which shows that major benefits can be had from undertaking strengthening and balancing activities throughout life and can help prevent falls which cost the NHS over £1billion per year. A healthy population is the foundation of a strong economy and the evidence shows that musculoskeletal health conditions are the second most common cause of sickness absence accounting for 30.8 million lost work days, that’s 25% of all days lost to poor health. Following an enthusiastic recent roundtable with partners including Arthritis Research UK, we will now consider the implications for priority setting with NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department of Work and Pensions.

Through our National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service PHE is recognised as having the most advanced cancer registration service in the world. This reputation has led to PHE being chosen by China’s National Cancer Centre to support them in establishing a nation-wide cancer registration and analysis service.  Together we will explore new analytical techniques on a scale not previously seen to develop new insights into cancer diagnosis, treatments and care.

And finally, we are continuing to see measles outbreaks across England, many of which are linked to travel abroad. The reality is that measles can kill. While vaccine uptake in children is currently high, coverage in the early 2000s dropped to a low of 80% nationally, meaning there are now significant numbers of unprotected teenagers and young adults. My thanks to everyone across PHE, the NHS and local authorities who are working together to raise public and professional awareness of the dangers and taking every opportunity for MMR catch-up for those not yet immunised.

Best wishes


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  1. Comment by Jim Fisher posted on

    This brings up an important initiative which should be considered. Last week my wife and I took a 21 bus tour by private coach through the UK and Ireland. At the end back in London we were all coughing and had no way to lessen the exposure to others on the bus. The tour director suggest coughing into our arms and explained that the bus filers had been changed. It was apparent that no education was imparted to them about viral infections or no had viral masks available. The fifty of us were all over 60 years old. This was a dangerous event that decimated our benefits of seeing your beautiful country. "Grandeur of Britain and Ireland by Trafalgar Aug 9-31."