How is EH working during the outbreak?

EHN Extra spoke to EHPs around the country. This is what they told us.
19 March 2020 , Katie Coyne

Please note this picture was compiled on 18 and 19 March and the situation is fast changing.

Stay safe and keep in touch to let us know how you are doing, how your work is changing, and any best practice you would like to share with colleagues – and what support you may need. Email [email protected] or [email protected]

Tony Baldock, EH and licensing manager, Crawley Borough Council
"We have been working closely with PHE and have been checking with the airlines so their cleaning schedules and materials are up to scratch. Gatwick is quiet because of what’s going on, we are not hugely stretched. We have not been inundated. People are not flying. We are trying to operate as usual but anything that we don’t need to do we have stopped. We are only doing reactive work, and complaints, but are taking extra care around that."

Susan Brown, senior EH officer, Durham County Council
"The office is really quiet and a message was sent out saying work from home if you can. We are using best practice and keeping a safe distance from people.

"With regards to food hygiene inspections we are sticking to the As and the Bs. But I have heard that for EH officers in London it’s business as usual. The food teams here are focusing on high risk premises, and high risk revisits. Duty officers will still be expected to respond to food alerts, infectious diseases, and outbreaks.

"We are coming up to 1 April so there is concern that we do have a programme of inspection targets to meet, though apparently this will be taken into account.

"I am working in the Better Business for All team and we are trying to support businesses as much as we can. Obviously it’s really difficult for them and we are trying to get the message out about grants and funding available – as a few will go to the wall without assistance.

"The UK Business Support Unit is based in County Durham and run by UMI has a call centre than can help businesses in crisis – including offering distress support including in the event that a business sadly has to wind up. This is a good resource for EH officers to offer businesses. They offer telephone (0300 456 3565), email [email protected] and webchat and social media.

Tom Gilchrist, service manager for Bristol City Council PRS
"As a city council we are still providing services to our most vulnerable customers through a variety of channels. Corporate policy on this is changing daily."

Nick Lowe, operations manager – food safety regulation and enforcement, Birmingham City Council
"We have got a lot of people off work who are self-isolating and we have a number of people are working from home. We are scaling down visits and inspections. There are a lot of food places that are not open anymore or if they are, they are doing deliveries or they are trying to start.

"We have a steady trickle of businesses wanting to get onto the online delivery platforms – especially the ones who had one or two star rating and need a higher rating to get onto a delivery platform. We are trying to support businesses and the public in having access to food places by re-inspecting these premises. Businesses are going to be in a lot of trouble so if we can help, we will. But we are not going to dish out high ratings if they don’t deserve it.

"We are no longer visiting care homes or hospitals even if they request a visit. In terms of complains we are only looking at high risk, or imminent risk, or accidents. But if it’s more of a routine complaint – we are scaling back on those."

Jill Stewart, senior lecturer in housing & EH, Middlesex University
"We have some particular challenges at universities and with such a short turnaround of time as things continue to change so rapidly. We all working hard to deliver all lectures online rather than face-to-face, which requires new skills and is time consuming. This delivery is new for staff and students alike, so we are all getting used to it. I wish all your readership well in the coming weeks and months."

Alan Page, EHP and head of department natural sciences, Middlesex University
"This is the sort of order of play that we invoked:
• We set up a triage centre for people who might become ill, upped our first aid training and triage
• Set up managed health care service for students that might not have GPs
• Staff at high risk identified and asked not to come in
• Students at high risk also asked to self identify
• We have isolation policies for students in halls
• We invoked overseas travel bans for staff and students
• We have now suspended all face-to-face teaching from this Monday and are supporting learning through online delivery.
• We are now looking at assessment
"The biggest issue for us now is mental health and isolation. There is a lot of anxiety out there and staff and students are not all responding well. We have expanded out support systems for staff and students. Our biggest job is comms which given the ever changing policy position is a huge problem for us. We are thinking of remaining open or at least partially open so that students have a safe space (with social distancing) to come to."

John Machin, environmental health consultant
"From a professional point of view, it has made me think that we’re a bit sidelined in his. There is no specific mention of EH officers in the Part 2a isolation orders. I know we don’t have the numbers like we used to but there are more EH officers than public health consultants [who will have the powers to enforce the orders].

"It may be difficult in this job to enforce the orders and stick to the rule – stay two metres away and do not stay in someone’s company for more than 15 minute? How are you going to apprehend someone if you can’t get close to them – how is this going to work?

"If you look at it in terms of public health terms and saving lives, maybe we should be involved in making sure the vulnerable are being properly looked after whilst adhering to isolation?

"With our local knowledge, training and experience in investigations and looking at infectious disease, you’d think we’d be in a good position to help.

"There are obstruction possibilities for businesses that know how to play the system and don’t want an EH officer on the premises."

Chris Hurst, director and noise consultant at Three Spires Acoustics
"I work in the events industry – but there is no events industry now. I was going to do stuff for Glastonbury, Park Life, Euro 2020 Fan Zone, which have been cancelled or postponed.

"My business is devastated so I am thinking what else can we do? We are well placed to help but there doesn’t seem to be that interface between PHE and EH.

"We should be helping and assisting wherever we can. I am sure there’s got to be even the simplest tasks, like collecting samples and data entry, that we can help with.

"I think there will be a lot of food inspections and noise inspections suspended. There could be a lot of EHPs sitting around with not very much work to do. They are qualified people, so use them.

Emma Caddick, section leader EH (public protection) at Wolverhampton City Council
"We have just suspended food inspections but we are doing complaints and dealing with high-risk work. We are making assessments about whether they can go out to visit or not. At the minute things are changing every day. Management are looking at the skills of the officers and where the pressures are. There’s a chance – because EHPs are quite diverse with a range of skills – they can go into a range of areas, but it would be too early to say where. I think EH officers will get used but it’s just ‘where’. But I can understand the frustration. I think we will be redeployed but when services start suffering."

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