Duncan Selbie: Public Health England chief executive on PHE's efforts in Sierra Leone and moving office in 2021

Written by Civil Service World on 31 December 2017 in Feature

With the end of 2017 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2018 – and tell us what they cannot do Christmas without

What are you most proud of achieving in 2017?

PHE is blessed with people of extraordinary talent and there has been much to be proud of this year, but there are three achievements in particular that I would highlight. Following our work in Sierra Leone during the West Africa Ebola outbreak, we handed over to the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation three laboratories in Freetown, Bo and Makeni, fully refurbished by PHE to UK standards and funded by UK Aid. Our objective now is to ensure what has been put in place can be sustained, through providing coaching and mentorship for the laboratory staff as they extend their diagnostic expertise. 

Secondly, we undertake independent, systematic evidence reviews and are proud of the impact these have on policy making across government, for example on child obesity, alcohol harm and e-cigarettes. This year we are focusing on air quality, calories in food and prescription drug dependency.

The third is the purchase of the former GlaxoSmithKline campus in Harlow, which will be the home of our new headquarters and world class centre for public health science. The move will begin in 2021 and complete by 2024. 

What was your most difficult decision in 2017? 

There really are too many to choose one from. Leading always involves difficult decisions and making tough choices and this is certainly true of the public health service. 

What are your organisation’s top priorities in the year ahead?

There are four I would highlight. Moving forward with the childhood obesity plan and in particular reducing the sugar in food that children consume; working closely with the Department of Work and Pensions and the Department of Health as we aim to help people who have a job but become unwell to stay in work; supporting the NHS as they modernise and tackle their many pressures and lastly preventing cardiovascular disease, which remains the biggest taker of life. 

For you, no Christmas holiday is complete without...

Taking the time to thank my colleagues for their tremendous work and support throughout the year and preparing for what will be a busy and productive year ahead.


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