As 2017 draws to a close, I want to thank all of my colleagues in PHE and across the public health system who work tirelessly to protect and improve the nation’s health. The public health profession is vast and to those who work in the wider community, from police officers and teachers to scientists, the work you do makes so much difference.
The Christmas period is naturally a time for reflection. In 2017 we have published our first Health Profile for England, we launched a noisy public awareness campaign on antibiotic resistance, moved forward with our work on sugar reduction and have seen the lowest ever smoking rates. Our scientists have made incredible progress on whole genome sequencing, introduced a hexavalent vaccine for babies and we became one of the first countries to see a fall in HIV transmission rates.
This is of course just the tip of the iceberg and I could write reams about the wide range of work from this year, but I wanted to use this week as an opportunity to look ahead. There is, as ever, much work to do and new challenges on the horizon.
Continuing to make the case for prevention and providing the best possible evidence
In 2018 we will continue to work on making the economic and health case for prevention. We know that NHS, local government and national government budgets must work harder and harder, year on year, which means the need for programmes which provide the best health outcomes, value for money and return on investment will be key.
We will continue focussing on areas where we can save lives through prevention, such as cardiovascular disease, which affects around 6 million people in the UK, leading to heart attacks and strokes and is largely avoidable.
Driving change through providing the best possible evidence is central to our work. This year we influenced the Government’s Drugs Strategy and Tobacco Control Plan and the Improving Lives plan to help get disabled people back into work. We have also made progress with the Childhood Obesity Plan, using our evidence to engage the food and drink industry about reformulation.
There will be no slowing down of putting evidence to work and in January we will publish our latest review on e-cigarettes and our first public report on sugar reduction will be published in March. Salt reduction targets ended this year, so we will now review the progress and set out next steps. Our fight against obesity will move to calories generally, which we know from our work with industry will help them make further and faster progress. Tackling obesity is multi-factorial, but in essence is about eating less and eating better. We will also be working throughout 2018 to provide evidence to DEFRA to underpin their Clean Air Plan.
Key focuses and challenges ahead
The link between work and health will be an important focus for us in 2018. The Government has now published its Industrial Strategy, which has at its heart the understanding that health begets wealth and to improve our economy, we must improve the health of our people.
We will be raising our game on mental health resilience, helping individuals, their family and friends and colleagues in workplaces to be more resilient in recognising the signs and symptoms, how to manage them and get the best help.
PHE will be working harder to communicate the world-leading and lifesaving work done by our scientists, often unheard of due to expert professionalism in tracing outbreaks and protecting us from all manner of infectious disease and other environmental hazards. From the very start of 2018 our scientists will be sharing their expertise overseas, with work in Angola on strengthening epidemiological services and building on a deployment to Nigeria working alongside the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.
Another challenge is to make better use of behavioural science techniques, nudging behaviour by making the best choice easier. Behavioural science seeks to implement low intensity ideas to deliver disproportionately large benefits. We already use this practice, for example in our work to nudge consumers to make healthier food choices, but we will be looking to greatly extend the scope.
Maintaining and extending our strong relationships with national government departments, local government colleagues, those in the NHS and the third sector will remain a top priority. We look forward to working with the new Metro Mayors, who are changing the policy and governance landscape across the country.
Every new year feels busier than the last and there is no doubt that 2018, our sixth year as the nation’s public health agency, will be no different. I hope that many of you get a chance to rest and recoup over the Christmas break.
Over the next few weeks we will be starting a hard hitting campaign on the health harms of smoking and our next Change4Life campaign will be on children’s snacking.
The work of health protection teams will carry on keeping us safe, virtually silent publicly through the competence of our exceptional people.
In 2018 we will look to be bolder, make further and faster progress and to lead the way on providing and putting evidence into action.
I wish everyone a restful and peaceful Christmas.