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Duncan Selbie's Friday message - 14 September 2018

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Dear everyone

This week over 1600 public health colleagues gathered at Warwick University for the PHE annual conference. This was our best and biggest conference and I thank all those who attended for your bold discussions, brilliant presentations and for the many opportunities to learn from each other. My thanks also to those who organised the conference and worked over many months to make it such a smooth and seamless event.

It has been a challenging, busy and fast paced year and as our Minister for Public Health and Primary Care Steve Brine MP put it, public health professionals have repeatedly sprung into action to protect and save lives and livelihoods. As always the conference, which was our sixth, was a time for reflection on all the work we have done and anticipation of that which we will do. One way of reflecting on the past six years is to look at the past six days. In that time we have released our refreshed Heart Age Test, confirmed two cases of monkey pox in the UK, a first for the UK, continued our work on the response to the novichok poisonings, published our latest Health Profile for England, launched a new alcohol campaign, and announced the new flu vaccine. All of this has been debated in the media, discussed on television screens, shared widely on social media and filled the columns of newspapers. Most importantly, it has reached people and that is the crux of everything. As the health sector works away on the new long term plan for the NHS, it is important that we are poised with the best possible knowledge and clear priorities – in our case to embed prevention at the heart of the plan, so we can make the biggest difference.

Our Health Profile for England gives us that knowledge. The new report tells us that people are living longer and are healthier at every age group, which is undeniably good news. However, it also tells us, amongst many things, that the poor are experiencing the health that the wealthy enjoyed twenty years ago, that our ageing population means the number of people with long-term health conditions has increased, that a further one million people could have diabetes by 2035, and that a larger proportion of children than adults are living in households that earn below the minimum income standard. We still have much work to do to close the inequalities, which are far from inevitable and this data sets out where we must focus our efforts. You will find a new chapter on child health, a new addition of future trends featuring throughout all chapters and an extended chapter on health protection. You can read more in our blog and find the full report via the PHE home page. Please do take a look.

Excessive alcohol use is a leading taker of life in the middle-aged, accounting for countless misery and more than a million admissions to hospital every year.  Liver cancer rates are one of the few trends going in the wrong direction. We know that for young people and for the hardest drinkers, the most evidenced intervention would be to set a minimum price, and our 2016 evidence review, published by The Lancet, is commonly regarded as the gold standard for the range of actions, including price, which would need to be taken to seriously tackle alcohol harm. There are of course parallels here with tackling obesity and our work with the food industry on calorie reduction, a partnership with over 200 companies. Today there are millions of adults in middle age who drink consistently above low risk levels. Our campaign with Drinkaware is aimed squarely at them. Having ‘drink free days’ is an easily understandable, pragmatic and sensible message and if acted on is likely to reduce the risks of harm to health. Drinkaware is an education charity whose mission is to reduce alcohol harm. They have an impressive reach of nine million unique visitors on their website each year looking for advice which is why we want to work with them. Whilst Drinkaware receives funding from the alcohol industry amongst others, they are not the alcohol industry and they are fierce in their defence of their independence.  Public health needs to be where people are, living the lives that they lead in the places that they live. We need to meet them there and be relevant to them. I make no apology for being clear and direct about this. The campaign will be rigorously and independently evaluated and we shall act on its findings whatever they may be.

And finally, next week there will be a health dialogue between the UK and Chinese Governments and I will be accompanying Matt Hancock MP Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to exchange expertise on how we are tackling prevention including mental health and embracing technology. My next message will be on Friday 28 September.

Best wishes


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

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