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Duncan Selbie's Friday message - 8 March 2019

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Cervical screening saves lives but uptake has been falling. This week PHE launched the first national Government campaign to raise awareness of the risks of cervical cancer and highlight the benefits of screening to encourage women to attend their screening appointments. Right now attendance for cervical screening is at a 20 year low and every year in England around 2,600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 690 die from the disease. It is estimated that if women attended screening regularly, 83% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented. PHE research shows there are a number of barriers to screening, including lack of knowledge about the purpose of the test and concern that it might be painful or embarrassing and the campaign aims to address these. You can download assets to help support this from our resource centre.

From creating an enterprise culture in Bootle to building community pride in Skelmersdale, the Well North programme champions communities across the North of England to create more and better opportunities for their people. The programme was founded by Professor Aidan Halligan, an extraordinary clinician leader, who very sadly passed away unexpectedly four years ago, but whose vision for these communities is thriving. Well North, now led by Lord Andrew Mawson, set out to work with ten of the most deprived communities in the North of England to bring together state and voluntary action with businesses. The programme supports entrepreneurs, breaks down traditional boundaries, tackles social isolation in a meaningful way, boosts education access for all ages and ultimately contributes to improved health and wellbeing. The things that matter to people and that have the biggest impact are straight forward – a job, a decent income, a home and a friend. Being part of a community that supports people to unlock their potential and meet their aspirations is paid back tenfold and the local programmes that Well North supports speak to the truth of this. This will now be taken forward through Well North Enterprises, the legacy vehicle for spreading learning from the programme and the approach.

In London, the Mayor, along with health and social care partners, is supporting the introduction of 'school superzones', which aim to create healthier and safer places around schools for children to live, learn and play.  The zones will cover around a five to ten minute walk from school grounds and will see actions such as restrictions on unhealthy food advertising, improvements to pedestrian routes, reducing traffic to lower air pollution and encouraging positive community projects, amongst others. Local authorities, schools and other community stakeholders are working together to decide on which measures to prioritise, with 13 boroughs taking part in the pilot phase and a plan to evaluate and roll them out across the capital by the end of the year. You can learn more in our blog.

Learning and development is important for everyone, at every stage of a career, but for young people the chance to get good work experience and learn skills lays the foundation for their future. At PHE we are fortunate to have a cohort of brilliant apprentices working across the organisation, learning from colleagues but also teaching us plenty along the way. We have been joining in with National Apprenticeships Week to highlight the benefits that apprenticeships bring to both employers and apprentices and my thanks go to all those who are making these experiences positive and impactful. Many congratulations to Jasmine Oloya (Communications), Chenchal Dhami (National Infection Service Lab Technician) and Omar Francis (Health and Wellbeing) for winning our Apprentice of the Year awards and thank you to all our apprentices for your hard work over the past two years.

And finally, last week we welcomed senior health officials from Pakistan as part of our ongoing collaborative work on integrated disease surveillance and response and strengthening compliance with the International Health Regulations. Our Pakistan colleagues learnt more about how the UK disease surveillance and public health laboratory systems operate and function in the UK. This relationship is all about learning from each other, giving our two countries the chance to exchange knowledge and expertise and we look forward to further building on this.

Friday messages from 2012-2018 are available on GOV.UK


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  1. Comment by Julie Stein Hodgins posted on

    Great strap line..'raise awareness of the risks of cervical cancer and highlight the benefits of screening ' wish you used that for breast screening too..instead of the risks of screening Vs the benefits! This highlights why we would consider cervical screening rather than worrying about the risk of the test. Yes..the risks are there but the science still supports early detection as out weighing the risk