Duncan Selbie’s Friday Message – 29 May 2020



Duncan Selbie's Friday Message - 29 May 2020 1

Dear everyone

NHS Test and Trace

Yesterday saw the re-start of mass contact tracing and the bringing together of multiple moving parts under the auspices of NHS Test and Trace. Its success depends on the role of the Director of Public Health and their statutory responsibilities for protecting the health of the local communities, working hand in glove with PHE local health protection teams and all those who come together at a local level under the leadership of upper tier local authorities. This is a great opportunity to show again what local Government can do and the leadership that they can bring that is second to none.

The simple message for everyone is to self-isolate should you have symptoms, order a test and assist our contact tracers to get advice to those who you may have been in contact with. Responding rapidly to outbreaks as the lockdown eases is how we will make sure that more people can enjoy more freedoms, because we get on top of problems and contain them quickly.

Joint Biosecurity Centre

One of the learnings from the nations, principally in South East Asia, who have faced relatively recent epidemics including SARS and MERS, is that they had created a biosecurity intelligence capability. The UK has this in parts, but not all coordinated in the same way and in response, the UK has established a Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) hosted by the Department of Health and Social Care. The JBC builds on our public health surveillance systems and brings together many other sources of intelligence including transport use, retail and crime.

This is a very positive development and PHE is playing its full part in its set up, with our Emeritus Medical Director Professor Paul Cosford as its Senior Medical Advisor, and senior colleagues also contributing from across PHE.


Each Thursday, PHE publishes a COVID-19 surveillance report and from this week, we are including seroprevalence data, which are an estimate of past infection rates and identifies the regions that have had the highest levels of infection.

PHE has received approval from the National Institute for Health Research for an urgent public health priority study to discover whether the detection of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – determines whether individuals are immune to future infection. This study starts to recruit healthcare workers from next Monday.


Each year over 300,000 people in England are diagnosed with malignant cancer, and over 130,000 die of the disease. One of the most predictive factors for patient outcomes is stage at diagnosis – the extent of spread of the disease – measured from stage 1 (small and localised) to 4 (metastatic spread). Today we published a new indicator at Clinical Commissioning Group level which allows an improved assessment of the geographic variation in the percentage of cancers diagnosed at stage 1 and 2, enabling local benchmarking against the national proportion of 55% diagnosed at stage 1 or 2. The work supports action by local and regional healthcare organisations to promote earlier diagnosis, including in time a measure of the extent to which cancer diagnostic and treatment pathways have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hepatitis C

And finally, today we published the Hepatitis C in England 2020 report with new metrics, which for the first time includes national data on people attending sexual health services and people who are homeless. Substantial progress has been made over the last year towards the World Health Organization elimination target to reduce hepatitis C (HCV) mortality by 65% by 2030. This is testament to the collaborative work between PHE, NHS England, local authorities, primary care, pharmaceutical companies and the third sector, which continues to drive innovations that raise awareness, increase testing and improve pathways into care. Nonetheless, health inequalities still remain and we have further work to do to eliminate HCV as a major public health threat by 2030.

Best wishes



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