Firstly, a very Happy New Year.
This is the busiest time of the year for the NHS and, as expected, flu levels are increasing. Our data shows that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospitals with the flu. The vaccine remains the best defence we have against the spread of flu and the two most important things people can do to help are to get vaccinated and to spread the word and encourage others to do so.
2018 will be a further important year for tobacco control. Smoking remains a major killer with 7 million people maintaining the habit in England and on average every minute someone is admitted to hospital with a smoking related disease. The Science and Technology Select Committee’s inquiry on e-cigarettes has received some powerful submissions, including from PHE, and the oral evidence sessions start on January 9th. You may also have seen in newspapers this week the announcement from Philip Morris International that they want to “give up cigarettes” and support England’s stop smoking services. To be clear, the UK is committed to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which places the UK under a duty to protect our public health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry, a duty which applies to both local and national government, and no partnership can be entered into with a tobacco company no matter the motivation.
There are now more ways than ever before to support people in quitting smoking, including e-cigarettes. We released a new television advert last week which highlights the dangers of tar in cigarettes, demonstrating how poisons from the tar enter the bloodstream, spreading around the body within seconds and causing damage to major organs. The advert encourages smokers who wish to quit to search ‘Smokefree’ where they can get free support, motivation and advice to help them succeed in this. You can learn more about this here.
On Tuesday our new Change4Life campaign began, this time focusing on children’s snacking habits. Every day children consume three times more sugar than the science suggests is good for them and snacking and sugary drinks account for 50% of this. Our consumer research shows that parents are asking for help in tackling this and the campaign aims to give them this help and to work with retailers to make the healthier choice the easiest choice. You can get more information here.
PHE works with a range of partners to develop high quality evidence and uses this to implement and influence robust, effective public health programmes that address factors affecting people’s health. In December we published PHE Research 2016 to 2017: annual review, which looks back on 12 months of PHE research and some of its highlights. From A to Z: reviewing the effectiveness of alcohol policies to collaborating internationally on zika virus, training future generations of public health scientists and many topics in between, the report illustrates the breadth of our work. The research was funded from diverse sources and reported in more than 850 articles published in the peer-reviewed scientific and clinical literature during 2016. You can read more here.
In November we published our Digital review which set out a number of recommendations for furthering our transformation as a digitally based organisation. To take these forward, on Monday next week we will be welcoming Michael Ekpe as our first Chief Digital and Technology Officer. Michael will be responsible for identifying and implementing at pace a small number of exemplar programmes that will look both internally and externally at where we will have the biggest impact for efficiency and effectiveness. This is as important to our future as our heightened focus on the economics of prevention and behavioural science.
And finally, I am very glad to say that Jake Dunning, a consultant in our National Infection Service since autumn 2015, was recognised in the New Year’s Honours list. Jake’s MBE recognises his contribution during the Ebola epidemic as field lead in West Africa for two clinical trials of potential treatments for the disease, which was during his time at Oxford University. Poppy Jaman, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid England and a non-executive member of PHE’s advisory board, was recognised with an OBE for services to mental health. Our warmest congratulations to both.
With best wishes,