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Duncan Selbie's Friday Message - 24 January 2020

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Dear everyone

2019-nCoV: Wuhan

The novel coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese City of Wuhan is a new and rapidly evolving situation where information on cases and the virus is being gathered and assessed daily. Based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK is considered low with proportionate and precautionary measures being taken for flights arriving from China. PHE is working very closely with the Chief Medical Officer, Government, NHS and of course the wider health protection community and I would like to thank everyone working on the response for their brilliant work so far. We will keep you and the public updated with clear and regular updates on our website, the first of these you can see here.


The independent and award-winning Freakonomics team in the US have produced their version of “the truth behind the vaping crisis”. In a balanced and well informed comparison of the US and the UK approaches to vaping, they note that the UK has embraced a harm reduction approach with good effect but that we also regulated effectively to protect our youth. Neither of which have yet happened in the US. We continue of course to review the emerging evidence and will publish our next report on e-cigarettes in February.


Loneliness is increasingly recognised as a leading factor affecting poor health across every age. The Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) released their Loneliness Annual Report on Monday, describing the progress made in the first year since the government loneliness strategy was published in October 2018. This is being measured against 60 policy commitments and one of these is the recent inclusion of a loneliness measure in the Public Health Outcomes Framework, which will allow local authorities to benchmark their loneliness outcomes against other geographies.

HPV infections

On Wednesday, we published new data from our surveillance of HPV infections in young sexually active women, which shows that the prevalence of cancer-causing HPV16 and 18 infections is now below 2% in 16 to 18-year-old women. This reflects the dramatic changes in HPV epidemiology that have resulted from the National HPV Vaccination Programme following its introduction in 2008, when the comparable prevalence of HPV16/18 was over 15%.

Since then, 9 million doses of HPV vaccine have been given to young women in England and the latest data show 83.9% coverage in year 9 girls. These data confirm that we are on track to see large reductions in cervical cancer in years to come and the recent extension of the programme to boys will accelerate this. The success of the programme is down to unrelenting hard work and close collaboration across the NHS and local government and is public health in action.

MenB vaccination programme

MenB is one of the leading infectious killers in young children, causing meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning). While most recover with rapid medical treatment, around 1 in 20 will die of the infection and it can be life-changing for survivors. On Thursday, PHE released a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which shows that the MenB vaccination programme has reduced cases of group B meningococcal disease in young children by almost two-thirds since its introduction in 2015. This is health protection in action and you can read more about this in our blog.

UK Four Nations

The Four Nations Committee, a joint and equal partnership with national public health agency colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, met in Glasgow last week. Chaired on a rotational basis, it plays a key role in fostering stronger working relationships as we work to protect and improve health in our respective countries. We each have our own particular priorities but many of these are common across the UK, such as closing the health gap and reducing inequalities. We are undoubtedly stronger by working together and learning from each other and look forward to the next meeting in Belfast later this year.

Faculty of Public Health

This week, the UK Faculty of Public Health published their refreshed five-year strategy, which speaks to their mission of working with their members and partners to promote human health and its wider determinants for everyone in society. The strategy is appropriately ambitious and its implementation underpinned by partnership working across the whole of civil society. We look forward to working with the Faculty as they take this forward.

Promoting physical activity

And finally, yesterday we published the latest edition of Health Matters, our digital resource for health and care professionals and policy makers, which we launched with a live teleconference. This month’s edition focuses on promoting physical activity in adults living with long-term conditions and was a co-production with Sport England about something that affects millions of people. I encourage you to make use of the resource.

Best wishes



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