Public Health England's 'Better outcomes by 2020' and 'Digital-first public health'

3 years after Public Health England (PHE) began operating as an executive agency of the Department of Health, it published its first 4-year strategic plan, ‘Better outcomes by 2020’. This plan recognised the growing importance of digital public health and data technologies and was followed by PHE’s first digital strategy in 2017, ‘Digital-first public health’.

‘Better outcomes by 2020’

The 4-year strategic plan outlined progress since PHE’s establishment but reflected that there was still significant work to be done on health inequalities and improving health in England. Following on from the Department of Health’s Shared Delivery Plan, the the Five year forward view for the NHS in England, and PHE’s 2014 strategy ‘From evidence into action’, the strategic plan confirmed PHE’s role in the public health system. The plan stated the importance of working closely with national and local government, the NHS, and the public.

The plan defined PHE’s core functions to be improving:

  • protection from public health threats
  • the public’s health and wellbeing
  • population health, including through early intervention and prevention
  • the public health system’s capacity and capability.

To achieve these goals, PHE stated their role was to:

  • build public health evidence, put this into practice, and influence policy
  • work with local communities in a place-based approach, addressing the wider determinants of health
  • take a ‘life course approach’ to health and wellbeing

The plan included a vision for the role of digital public health and data technologies in PHE’s work. For example, by sharing data with local organisations to personalise services for individuals or by using new technology to help protect the country from infectious disease outbreaks.

‘Digital-first public health’

Fulfilling a commitment in their 2014 Knowledge Strategy, PHE published their first digital strategy on 2 February 2017, aiming to ‘meet user and government expectations and make best use of technology to protect and promote health and reduce inequalities’ through a common, cross-sectoral approach.

The strategy included:

  • principles, responsibilities and standards for PHE’s digital work
  • a framework for digital development in public health, including through advocacy and collaboration
  • a digital public health maturity index for PHE teams to identify their starting position in terms of digital awareness and practice
  • PHE’s next steps for 2017/18 in taking forward digital-first public health

Later developments

PHE published its next strategic plan – for 2020–25 – in September 2019. Digital-first public health was again at the heart of this plan, which included a focus strengthening the public health system through personalised preventative interventions and improved data capability.


Public Health England.
Strategic plan for the next four years: Better outcomes by 2020.
UK government; 2016.

Public Health England.
Digital-first public health: Public Health England's digital strategy.
UK government; 2017.

Public Health England.
PHE Strategy 2020 to 2025.
UK government; 2019.