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Duncan Selbie's Friday message - 26 October 2018

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Dear everyone

To say good health is not equally enjoyed is not new and the latest report of the Global Burden of Disease study, published this week in The Lancet, speaks again to this. Premature mortality is twice as high in the most deprived areas compared to the most affluent, meaning people living in Blackpool are foregoing twice as many years of life compared with those in Wokingham. This is the most comprehensive analysis yet of GBD data for the UK at a local, regional and national level.  For the first time it provides 150 counties and unitary authorities with data on premature mortality, disability and risk factors from 1990 to 2016. Addressing the problems identified needs action from everyone. National and local government on creating jobs local people can get, improving education and housing amongst other local priorities and by people themselves taking personal responsibility for the choices they make on whether they smoke, exercise, drink and what and how much they eat. Along with this GBD data, the recently updated Health Profile for England provides a solid foundation for the forthcoming vision document from Secretary of State Matt Hancock on the importance of prevention, placing good health at the heart of all policy making, and of course the opportunities of the NHS Long Term Plan. You can learn more about this new study in our blog.

The fifth annual report from the English Surveillance Programme for Antimicrobial Utilisation and Resistance was published on Tuesday, indicating that there has been a rise in the number of resistant bloodstream infections of 35% between 2013 and 2017. To coincide with this, we relaunched the Keep Antibiotics Working campaign to alert the general public to the risks of antibiotic resistant infections, aiming to reduce patient expectation for antibiotics and help GPs explain to patients when antibiotics are not necessary. When the campaign was first introduced last year it raised public awareness by 78% and GPs have welcomed it, with 93% saying they felt it supports GPs to say ‘no’ to antibiotics when they are not needed. You can download the assets from our Campaign Resource Centre.

The best news of the week was the announcement on Tuesday from Public Health Minister Steve Brine MP that Government plans to consult on fortifying flour with folic acid in early 2019. This is based on the thorough evidence reviews from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and will reduce the risk of hundreds of pregnancies being affected by spina bifida and other neurological problems every year and has been adopted by over 80 countries. This would be a small change that would have a huge benefit and is a great example of public health in action.

Also on Tuesday an event took place at the brilliant Museum of Brands in London, which is hosting our ‘A Century of Public Health Marketing’ exhibition for the next six months. This is a visual presentation of the remarkable impact of marketing over the last 100 years ranging from a time when cigarettes were actively promoted as a medical intervention to today when we have the lowest ever smoking prevalence rates. We can also see that some messages have not changed since drink-free Mondays were encouraged and first advertised in the early 1900s. The museum is well worth a visit if you get the chance but you can also see the work on our interactive blog.

And finally, as our planning for our future science campus in Harlow gathers pace so too does our work with the local community and in particular the local education providers, and we have taken several steps recently to build on our relationship with Harlow College. PHE’s Hannah McGregor and Heena Shah recently hosted six work experience students at our Colindale campus, introducing them to the wide range of scientific work that is carried out there. We have also signed an agreement which will allow students to work and be trained at the new PHE Harlow campus and opened a training laboratory at the college which will be a hub for future outreach activities.

Best wishes


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  1. Comment by Tim Pye posted on

    It is disappointing that this week's message does not mention the International Lead Poisoning Week of Action.

    In the USA lead poisoning prevention is a top public health priority.

    A recent report in the Lancet suggested that 18% of mortality can be attributed to lead poisoning.

    Please contact me for further information.