Duncan Selbie’s Friday Message – 31 January 2020

Content from Public Health Matters Blog


The novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China continues to be a rapidly evolving situation. Yesterday the World Health Organization declared this as a global health emergency and in response, the four UK Chief Medical Officers raised the risk to the public from low to moderate. We can also confirm this morning that two patients in England, who are members of the same family, have tested positive for coronavirus and they are receiving specialist NHS care.

The UK government is continuing to implement tried and tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus. As part of this, PHE and the wider health protection community have been working closely with the Foreign Office on the repatriation of UK citizens living in Wuhan. We have also set up a health hub in Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester Airports.

Read PHE and the Department of Health and Social Care’s guidance for latest information and data, which is being updated daily. Our blog on everything you need to know about coronavirus is also being updated regularly.

New research investment

On Monday, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) announced a £58.7 million research investment to protect the public from health threats including infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance and air pollution. This funding will launch 15 new NIHR Health Protection Research Units (HPRUs) in April, which will run for five years as partnerships between PHE and top universities. The HPRUs will fund high quality research that will enhance PHE’s ability to use innovative techniques in our health protection work, as well as develop and maintain our scientific expertise and future workforce.

In addition to the new HPRUs, the NIHR has granted £1 million to the University of Leicester to investigate the effect of environmental exposures on health, in partnership with PHE. This research investment will play a critical role in furthering our top priority on cleaner air.

Cancer numbers

Also on Monday, we published new cancer registration data, which show that cancer diagnoses in England have risen to a record high with 316,680 new cancers (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers) diagnosed in England in 2018, increasing 3.6% from 2017. The data also show that – for the first time ever – prostate cancer has now overtaken breast cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer, accounting for 15.4% of all diagnoses. This indicates that more people are aware of the signs and seeking help, in part thanks to well-known figures such as Bill Turnball and Stephen Fry.

Our world-leading cancer data is crucial in helping clinicians and policymakers understand the scale of cancer in England. There are many reasons for the increase in cancer diagnoses, with our ageing population being a significant contributor, but it is encouraging that we are also seeing increases in survival and an overall decrease in emergency diagnoses of cancer.