Preventing disease

We lead and enable work across Scotland to identify infectious diseases and prevent their spread.

We lead Scotland’s work to provide vaccines to millions of people across Scotland every year. This prevents diseases like measles, cervical cancer and COVID-19.

With our partners in Scotland and internationally, we work to identifying emerging threats to health, like COVID-19 and avian flu. We analyse them and produce data, intelligence and advice to inform action to prevent harm.

COVID-19 data and research

Since the start of the pandemic to March 2022, COVID-19 was one of the leading causes of death in Scotland.

It was only surpassed by heart disease and dementia.

More information about causes of death in Scotland can be found in the Registrar General's Annual Review of Demographic Trends (external website).

Our trusted data, and world-leading research and intelligence, played an essential role in the pandemic.

Our COVID-19 daily dashboard has had more than 49 million visitors to date.


  • gathered and shared data and intelligence from across Scotland on the spread of COVID-19
  • gave the public and policy makers an insight into COVID-19 nationally and in their local area
  • shaped Scotland’s leaders’ decisions about restrictions and service provision by providing expertise and intelligence, backed up by 1,152 reports and data extracts in 2021/22
  • continued to reach far beyond Scotland with our world-leading research. We led and/or contributed to 124 research projects with 144 partners in Scotland, the UK and internationally. Our research was referenced by world-wide media 3,462 times.

Our guidance for the public, private and third sectors, service providers and employers on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was viewed 399,934 times.

COVID-19 vaccines

More than 27,656 deaths were directly prevented in Scotland by COVID-19 vaccines. That is a little more than the number of people who live in Elgin (external website).

We were right at the heart of the COVID-19 vaccine campaign.


  • provided information for NHS inform (external website) on the vaccine – the information was viewed 37 million times
  • produced 105 different printed publications in 25 languages to support people to make an informed choice about getting a vaccine
  • printed millions of copies of publications households across Scotland
  • provided vital data and intelligence on the vaccine campaign to inform service planners

We also led the clinical governance of the vaccine campaign. This identified, reported and investigated any issues with the vaccines quickly, to make sure the vaccines were safe.

COP 26

In 2021, we worked with the UK and Scottish Governments to make sure the Glasgow COP26 climate conference took place safely.

We monitored new infections and health risks, and produced daily health protection situation reports.

Our final report showed that COP26 did not increase the number of COVID-19 infections in Scotland.

Preventing cervical cancer

Women in the poorest parts of Scotland are more likely to get a late-stage cervical cancer diagnosis, caused by the HPV virus.

We have been working to prolong the life of women by playing a leading role in the HPV vaccine roll out.

We have coordinated the vaccination of secondary school children and men who have sex with men.

This has reduced the number of people who have HPV and put Scotland on track towards eliminating cervical cancer.

Prolong healthy life

Getting timely access to quality health and social care is important for a Scotland where everybody thrives.

We collect, process, manage and share data on health and social care services to get people prompt access to the care they need, and support those services to treat them .

Our modelling lets services understand not only their current performance, but what issues might arise in the future.

Modelling system pressure

Thousands of people are waiting for NHS services.

Getting timely access to effective treatment prolongs healthy life. 

A prompt discharge to an appropriate setting is important to wellbeing.

Having the right resources in the right place to manage demand on the system is challenging.

Effective planning makes the best use of public resources.

PHS data plays a vital role in reporting the performance of the health and social care system.

Our ‘whole system modelling’ programme goes beyond simply reporting data. It models the way people move through the health and social care system to anticipate peaks and troughs in demand and capacity.

These forecasts allow service planners to anticipate the pressures on the health and social care system. This allows them to make the best use of resources.

Our work has allowed Health Boards to:

  • monitor system pressures
  • plan recovery from COVID-19
  • plan for winter
  • remobilise elective services

We continue to expand this work to an even greater range of services.

Keeping people safely at home

Working in close partnership with local services, we helped to:

  • keep people safely at home
  • avoid unnecessary hospital visits
  • support getting people home from hospital

We supported NHS Grampian and Grampian’s Health and Social Care Partnerships’ Operation Home First strategy.

The strategy brought together organisations from different sectors to deliver 16 different interventions and initiatives.

We used our specialist data analysis and evaluation skills to complement local capabilities to support these interventions.

As a result, our work produced new evidence that enabled investment in local services.

For example, this supported a new community-based respiratory team, a community physical activity programme and a new intermediate care service.

Our work has built local organisations’ evaluation skills and created networks of evaluators with shared approaches.

Our support for this work continues.

Early warning for drug-related deaths

More than three times as many people die drugs related deaths in Scotland than the rest of the UK, relative to our populations (external website).

PHS have worked with local partners, national agencies and people with lived and living experience to create a Rapid Action Drug Alerts and Response (RADAR) early warning system. This system will spot issues and save lives.

RADAR detects risks for people who use substances. It links routinely monitored data from services with alert reports from frontline service providers or people who use substances.

We validate, assess and triangulate against other sources to allow us to see when and where a problem is emerging. This could be an increase in overdoses from a highly potent substance or unusual reactions to a novel substance.

RADAR provides people who prevent drug-related deaths with valuable intelligence about what to do and where to save lives.

RADAR allows access to drug-checking services where they are not available. This helps people who use substances and those who care for them to have a better understanding of the contents of, and risks posed by, substances.

Promote health and wellbeing

Eliminating health inequalities means making it easy for everyone to live a healthy life. This goes far beyond the NHS.

It includes providing:

  • quality housing and education
  • good work for fair pay
  • timely access to public services

We analyse the evidence on how to improve health and wellbeing.

We work with partners in local authorities, housing, planning, education and central government to turn evidence into action.

Local action on child poverty

One in four children in Scotland live in poverty (external website).

People living in our poorest communities die 10 years before their neighbours in the wealthiest communities.

We created a suite of resources to help local areas better use data that prioritises action to reduce child poverty.

We piloted the approach in Inverclyde Council.

Together, we built a better picture of:

  • what the local child poverty system looked like in Inverclyde
  • what data were being captured
  • how data could be used to best support local families

The approach brought together participants from a wide range of local services in Inverclyde with a role to play in the lives of low income families.

Local partners thought about how they might better collaborate to prevent and reduce child poverty.

Using the tools, in collaboration with partners, local areas can increase their understanding of child poverty locally. They can then use this insight to make data-informed decisions about how best to support families and prevent them from being locked into poverty.

"Working with Public Health Scotland… helped us better understand the needs of our community to set our priorities. When we work together across organisational boundaries, we can achieve more." Louise McVey (Team Leader), Inverclyde Council

Investing in a healthier Glasgow

People in Glasgow die younger than any other part of Scotland (external website).

In the poorest parts of the city, life expectancy is getting shorter.

The Glasgow City Region City Deal will invest £1billion to fund major infrastructure projects, create jobs, improve transport and drive business innovation.

It is vital that this investment makes the greatest possible positive impact on health.

We supported Glasgow City Region to secure £347,000 of funding from the Health Foundation’s Economies for Healthier Lives programme. This will allow them to deliver a project to build routine assessment of the likely health outcomes into all large capital spend projects across the City Region.

We are a core partner to the Glasgow City Region Economies for Healthier Lives project and instrumental members of the bid team.

We have embedded a member of staff in the project who worked as part of the Glasgow City Region team. They build relationships with stakeholders and drew on our data, evidence, and expertise to influence the strategy throughout the development process.

Shaping neighbourhoods

Our neighbourhood shapes our health.

From access to greenspace, transport and work, to exposure to cheap alcohol and tobacco, where we live directly influences our health.

We worked with the Scottish Government and partners on the fourth National Planning Framework.

Through our input, the framework will drive the creation of places that make it easier for everyone to live a long, healthy life.

Last updated: 10 January 2023
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