Duncan Selbie's Friday Message – 26 June 2020
The UK is easing out of lockdown and the public health system locally, regionally and nationally will have an incredibly important role to play in keeping the virus at bay and people safe and well. Far from slowing down, we are set to remain as focused as ever to stay on top of new cases, clusters and outbreaks wherever they may be.
An example of good practice is the London Coronavirus Response Cell (LCRC), a multi-disciplinary team which integrates the work of administrative officers, surveillance analysts, public health registrars, public health specialists, health protection practitioners and consultants to ensure an effective coronavirus response for the whole of London. Read our blog to find out more.
Our surveillance reports inform decisions and actions across all of society and you can see the latest weekly COVID-19 epidemiology surveillance report and accompanying infographic.
Understanding antibodies and immunity
There has been much interest in antibody tests and their value given that we still do not know whether producing antibodies in response to having COVID-19 means you are immune to future infection and how long that protection may last. Improving our understanding of this is critical for informing future decisions about controlling the spread of the disease, and recently PHE received approval from the National Institute for Health Research for an urgent public health study to investigate precisely this.
This is now up and running with the first Trusts now taking regular swabs and blood samples from healthcare workers and collecting data about the onset of infections and any new symptoms that appear during the course of the study. We are planning to recruit up to 100,000 healthcare workers, with 10,000 as our initial target to participate through their Trusts, and we are hopeful that this will happen by September. I encourage Trusts’ Research teams to come on board and contact SIREN@phe.gov.uk, and I thank the NHS for contributing to this research.
Heatwave and COVID-19
Many of us enjoy the warm weather but some people find it more difficult to cope with higher temperatures, including older people, those with underlying health conditions and very young children. The first PHE Heat-Health alert this year is of even greater importance as many of the most vulnerable are shielding at home due to COVID-19 and are at increased risk from higher temperatures, especially those who are older and living alone.
We should continue to check up on family and friends who are older or living with underlying health conditions and for those who will be making the most of the weather outdoors, this should be whilst continuing to follow the social distancing rules. Read our blog to find out more.
People who sleep rough
People sleeping rough, particularly those with drug and alcohol misuse problems, often have difficulty accessing healthcare and face a revolving door where they are in and out of services. It is therefore welcome news that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has confirmed that a further £16 million of planned spending on drug and alcohol support for homeless people is being brought forward to this year, and is in addition to the £7 million already available.
This funding will be targeted at the areas with the highest numbers of people sleeping rough who have been moved into emergency accommodation during the pandemic in order to support their ongoing drug and alcohol treatment needs. Further details about the funding will be shared via the PHE Regions shortly. You can read more here.
And finally, PHE is proud to join leading UK employers in the national campaign to #flextheUK and make flexible working the norm, not the exception. Many organisations across the UK have adapted their ways of working almost overnight as a result of the pandemic, but there is a growing evidence base that when changes are made collaboratively within an organisation, flexible working can improve performance, engagement and staff retention, as well as helping people balance caring responsibilities. Read more in our letter to The Telegraph.
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