Skip to main content

Duncan Selbie's Christmas message and look ahead to 2019

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Duncan Selbie Friday Message

Dear everyone

As the year comes to a close I want to warmly thank all of my PHE colleagues and those working across the health and care family for your tireless efforts to protect and improve the nation’s health.

First, a big thank you to all those working in local government in what has been another challenging year. Councils have strained every sinew to play a vital role in supporting local communities in the face of ever increasing demands. I have seen many fantastic examples of public health in action across the country, from innovative ways of tackling childhood obesity, to increasing the uptake of the NHS Health Check, to keeping the vulnerable safe and warm during winter. By weaving prevention into all of their plans and all of their policies, for everything from health and social care to town planning, housing and transport, local government is at the forefront of helping people live longer and healthier.

This year PHE colleagues, alongside many others in national and local government and the NHS, have been involved in several high level health protection responses. Our teams have used their skills and expertise to respond to the Salisbury poisonings, the heatwave during the summer, the UK’s first cases of Monkeypox, and continuing work on the Grenfell Tower fire, to name but a few. We have also continued our daily work of responding to thousands of outbreaks of infectious disease.

In many ways this year has been unprecedented in the number of challenges we have faced together and we have grown stronger and more resilient.

Screening saves lives and millions of people benefit each year from NHS cancer and non-cancer programmes. This year we identified a problem with NHS breast screening services and this will emerge stronger with clearer governance and properly invested IT. What our screening colleagues do day in and out matters hugely to keeping people safe and well and I have the utmost respect for how they have continued to deliver an exceptional service through this inevitably difficult time.

It has been a year of data. Our second Health Profile for England report was published in September, as the most comprehensive look at the state of the nation’s health and highlighting the persistent health inequalities that exist. It laid out the facts about our ageing population and projected that we will have two million more people aged over 85 by 2031. The data tells us that with this ageing population comes an increase in the number of people with preventable long-term conditions, the burden of which weighs heavy on the NHS, accounting for 70% of total health and social care spend.

With that in mind, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, has prioritised prevention in the Government’s top three priorities for the health and care system and committed to developing a Green Paper on prevention next year setting out what more we can all do across Government, national and local, business, the third sector and by citizens themselves. Naturally, PHE will be supporting the development of these new policy ideas next year.

To help support the NHS on its prevention agenda we are strengthening our role with them through the addition of a PHE provided director of public health to each of the seven new regional management teams. This is a strategic opportunity and in everyone’s interest to have public health back on the leadership teams of the NHS.

Our social marketing campaigns continue to be unsurpassed in the world, on for example antibiotic resistance, sexually transmitted infections, childhood obesity, drink free days and everything in between. We will be taking this further through our work on ‘predictive prevention’ through personalising, targeting and empowering people to better manage their own health using digital interventions and messages that people can act on.

Themes such as childhood obesity and air quality have featured throughout the year and our work on these has moved at pace. We began our Calorie Reduction Programme and published the first year progress from our Sugar Reduction Programme. And our evidence review on air quality will be published in the first half of next year.

Other positive news includes smoking prevalence falling to a record low, rates of teenage pregnancy dropping to their lowest ever, England achieving the global UNAIDS 90:90:90 targets for HIV detection and treatment and TB rates down 38% from those of five years ago amongst much more that public health has either led or been a material force for good.

Over the course of 2018 we have continued to make our presence felt internationally, with new PHE offices in Ethiopia and Nigeria adding to our long term presence strengthening disease surveillance and compliance with the International Health Regulations in Pakistan and Sierra Leone. The UK Rapid Support Team has provided much needed support to disease outbreaks, and our thoughts are with colleagues currently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, supporting the WHO led response to the Ebola outbreak there.

In November, we hosted National Public Health Institutions from over 70 countries at the annual meeting of the International Association of National Public Health Institutions (IANPHI), a network committed to improving health and addressing inequality. PHE’s global work builds strategic partnerships and strengthens the friendship needed to help make the World a safer place.

It is in truth impossible to touch upon all the fabulous work that is taking place every day, right across the country and the world.

The pace will not slow in 2019

We will continue to meet our primary duty to protect the country from infectious disease and other environmental hazards. And we will continue to focus on important public health concerns with evidence reviews on the overuse of prescription drugs, gambling, air pollution and the impact of saturated fat on health. We will also publish our nutrient profiling model, which we consulted on this year to help guide how certain foods are advertised to children. We will update again on the progress made to meet the 20% sugar reduction target by industry and on the impact of e-cigarettes especially in helping smokers to quit for good.

And finally, I would like to thank all EU citizens working at PHE for their service, dedication and the unqualified contribution they make to our work. We look forward to continuing to work alongside you for many years to come. We will of course work together across the health and care system to ensure we are best placed to respond to all scenarios.

Public health is all about creating better futures for people and actually doing something about closing the health gap between the affluent and the poor. This is about short and long term, unrelenting work by countless people and it is my privilege to lead an organisation that has this as its mission. Only with and through our partners and colleagues across the whole system can we succeed in this and I close with my thanks again for your unstinting support and friendship.

I hope that everyone manages to have a restful break over the Christmas period.

Best wishes,


You can read previous Friday messages here.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Elcena Jeffers posted on

    Merry Christmas

    Elcena Jeffers

  2. Comment by Chris Carlin posted on

    Great Blog

    I work across the NHS/Public Health/VCSE, managing a project called Well Halton. It is all about cross-sector working, community resilience and prevention. We are part of a wider programme called Well North.

    I can see, on a day-to-day basis, the impact we are having by empowering local people to generate their own solutions. Whilst there is lots of talk about prevention, projects like Well Halton are treated like 'nice to do' activities. We need to make 'prevention' a core part of what we do. The danger is that as budgets get slashed, non-essential preventative work is cut. The funding needs to match the rhetoric.

    Thanks for an interesting blog Duncan. I look forward to seeing you in Halton next year.

    Happy Christmas All