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Duncan Selbie's Friday Message - 12 June 2020

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Dear everyone

Black Lives Matter

My mission is to lead an organisation and be part of a system that is fundamentally focussed on ensuring equality and fairness; that champions the importance of wellbeing and fights the root causes of inequality that impact on the life chances and outcomes of individuals and communities across the UK. That is why the death of George Floyd and subsequent events of the past two weeks, felt in America and as acutely here in the UK, are so deeply important. They reflect communities expressing anguish and concern and I see this as a call to action, both for PHE and the wider health and care system.

COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on enduring health inequalities that our BAME communities continue to experience. These were confirmed in our recent report on ‘Disparities in the risks and outcomes of COVID-19’ and brought to life through the perspectives and experiences shared as part of our extensive BAME stakeholder engagement which confirmed the many social, economic, cultural and structural factors driving these inequalities. The Black Lives Matter movement has lent an urgency to the need for action. As the leader of PHE, I am profoundly committed to recognising the excellence and promoting the wellbeing and visibility of my BAME colleagues, and we are working actively across our policies and programmes to ensure that those who are marginalised can see and feel that things are changing for the better.


This week, a study by the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium (Cog-UK), chaired by the Director of PHE’s National Infection Service and Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Sharon Peacock, revealed that the COVID-19 epidemic in the UK is the result of at least 1,356 separate virus importations from abroad, followed by local transmission within the UK. This invalidates the idea that a single ‘patient zero’ started the outbreak in the UK, instead confirming that it was largely initiated by travel from European countries including Italy in late February, Spain in early-to-mid-March, and then France in mid-to-late March. This study is a preliminary analysis and further analyses of these data are ongoing, but it nonetheless provides a platform for evaluating future trends in virus introduction.

NHS Health Checks

The Government announced its intention in the prevention green paper ‘Advancing our Health: Prevention in the 2020s’ to undertake a review of the NHS Health Check Programme and has asked PHE to lead on this. This national prevention programme, commissioned by local Government and reaching every part of England, aims to prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, and identify early dementia. Local Government’s oversight of the programme has seen 6.7 million people aged 40 to 74 benefit from a check over the past five years. Now, over ten years on from its launch, the review will build on the gains delivered so far and consider what action is needed to maximise the programme’s impact over the next 10 years and beyond.

University College London’s Professor John Deanfield has been appointed as the external chair and the review will be advised by an expert panel and informed by UK and international evidence. More on this to follow soon.


PHE is conducting a new voluntary study to assess and monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 among pupils and teachers who are currently attending 100 schools across England. The surveillance study, which will add to the data on SARS-CoV-2 infection that we are already collecting through national surveillance programmes and other nationwide studies, will allow us to better understand the rates of infection and transmission in schools across England. Importantly, it will help our understanding on the role of children in transmission and will inform wider surveillance planned for educational settings in the autumn term. You can read more here.

Best wishes



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