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Resilience of environmental health services at ‘tipping point’ warns the CIEH

CIEH | Chartered Institute of Environmental Health

4 min read Partner content

A leading professional membership body has warned that following continued cuts to public spending, the resilience of vital environmental health services designed to protect businesses and the public are close to or already at a tipping point.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has voiced its concerns following the publication of their Environmental Health Workforce Survey 2014/15 and has expressed that any further reorganisation of services, coupled with continued reduction in resources, will have serious consequences for business, as well as to the long-term health and wellbeing of people in the UK.

The survey, which involved a detailed study over 18 months, looked at the impact of budget cuts on existing services delivered by Environmental Health Managers in local councils and the effect that was having on their ability to continue to deliver services effectively.

The report identifies that the average budget for environmental health services has fallen by 6.8% in real terms between 2013-14 and 2014-15. These services cover a range of provisions including: food hygiene protection in shops, restaurants and takeaways; dealing with dangerous and unsafe working practices; addressing unfit or overcrowded housing; and taking action to protect developers and the general public from contaminated land and noise control.

Further findings from the survey found that almost half of the respondents (47.4%) stated that resources were only just adequate to provide a basic statutory service, left no contingency and that any further cuts would compromise service delivery.

And local authorities that were able to estimate their budget for 2015-16 expected a further fall in real terms of 30%, with vital services like pest control management and air quality monitoring frequently cited as the services most likely to be stopped over the next three years.

Graham Jukes OBE, Chief Executive of the CIEH, said that while environmental health practitioners at a local level have worked hard to reorganise services, increase partnership working and develop innovative projects, current resources have been stretched with no further room for manoeuvre.

“Government policy is to focus on reducing the long-term costs to the NHS by encouraging preventative health actions and environmental health services are on the front-line of that agenda,” said Graham Jukes. “Local councils, however, have borne the brunt of the Government’s social and economic change programme over the past five years and this has meant essential environmental health services are at a tipping point.

“Environmental Health Managers cannot continue to support the Government’s change agenda under continued budgetary attrition or else there is the very real risk that events like food poisoning outbreaks, fires in multi-occupied housing or increased anti-social behaviour will become increasingly prevalent and more expensive to deal with.”

The CIEH is a Chartered professional body dedicated to safeguarding and improving health and wellbeing, in the UK and internationally. As well as setting and upholding standards of professional conduct, the CIEH is active in education and vocational training, supporting professional development and competency, maintaining standards and conducting campaigns and research.

The Environmental Health Workforce Survey 2014/15 is the first of a series of reports that addresses environmental health in local government. It also forms part of the wider EH Futures programme, which is setting out the CIEH’s vision to help support and plan for the environmental health profession over the next 10 years given the Governments current agenda.

Other key results from the CIEH’s survey include:

London boroughs have experienced the largest cuts, with an average of 20% over the past two years.
Of the services previously provided by Local Authorities, the most commonly stopped over the past three years was pest control (71.9%) and other services that have been curtailed include: business support; health promotion; and contaminated land investigation.
The survey indicates that the numbers of qualified Environmental Health Practitioners are down by 11% and technical staff have been reduced within the workforce, with an overall reduction of 12% in all environmental health staffing.
55% of respondents replied that further reductions were planned to the number of environmental health staff over the next 12 months.

The CIEH believes that Government and local authorities have a responsibility to support and protect environmental health services and is calling on the Government to:

Maintain properly resourced environmental health services with the right level of professionally qualified staff in order to support the Government’s strategy of shifting responsibility away from public services, encouraging good prosperous business, as well as supporting consumer choice and protection.
Recognise that preventative environmental and public health intervention provides the basis for longer term planning for local government and will lead to improved health and wellbeing in the future, significantly contribute to savings in the NHS and reduce the burden on GP surgeries and hospitals.

Graham Jukes added: “We are working closely with Government its key agencies and local government to continue to evolve services, encourage innovation in delivery, set standards, provide guidance and work with stakeholders, to maintain vital environmental health services. This in-turn will help business and local communities remain healthy, safe, productive and resilient.”

Read the most recent article written by CIEH - Chartered Institute of Environmental Health appoints new Chief Executive

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