Feet and shadows

EHPs call for the right resources to do their jobs

Local authority officers are rightly key to contact tracing and business reopening, but concerns remain over capacity.
05 May 2020 , Katie Coyne

EH may have to ‘step-up’ again as the government looks set to announce a roadmap out of the lockdown that will stretch local authority resources further.

The lockdown was due to be reviewed this Thursday, but a leaked report has suggested the prime minister Boris Johnson would be announcing plans on Sunday to relax measures.

EHN Extra spoke to EHPs about what this might mean for the profession, which has seen movement on its repeated calls to reinstate contact tracing, but may now also see its enforcement work ramp up.

EH consultant John Machin was very concerned for local authority colleagues: “Councils were stretched beforehand and are obviously having to make cuts year on year. I know they are getting a little bit of funding from central government to help them through the crisis.

“But let's say that they haven't got the staff numbers to do the work that's going to be needed for the reducing the lockdown and they try and recruit consultants - I don't know how they are going to afford it.

“Maybe they haven't got a choice, they’ve got to recruit to enforce these things. But it does make you wonder how we're going to do the enforcement and the contact tracing at the same time. Because there aren’t enough of us anymore.”

However, another local authority EHP involved in a strategic level in COVID-19 planning and speaking in an anonymous capacity, argued “a lot of teams” at local authority level should have capacity to offer support with both contact tracing and enforcement action.

But he warned of a “huge increase” in the number of complaints to local authorities and HSE about lack of physical distancing and other covid19 measures in workplaces once businesses re-open.

“We're getting quite a number already. Members of the public are complaining about business closures or the lack of social distancing where businesses are reopening, and also employees as well.

“From day one, we've had employees coming to us saying this business isn't essential. It should be closed. But obviously that's not the legislation. There's a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding out there.”

Chris Hurst, an EH consultant specialising in noise, said despite tight resourcing EH will have to enforce in a “diplomatic way”. There will be implications for employers getting hold of the right kit for employees, and they may be worried about being sued, and EH will need to strike a balance.

“A heavy handed approach, is not going to work,” he said, “but by the same token, you might get some employers who you know don't want to spend money to protect their employees.”

Richard Short, an EH consultant and a Conservative parliamentary candidate in last year’s general election, argued that perhaps for the “wrong reasons” resourcing might not be a big issue if EHPs aren’t utilised for the “most important” role of contact tracing.

Short works for the hospitality sector and saw potential enforcement issues from the opposite side. He argued that primary authority could be used, at least in his sector, to ease bureaucratic burden. He said: “My worry as an EH on the industry side would be that we would get perhaps less qualified, less experienced officers trying to enforce what can be quite complex situations and having to make judgment calls, which some are better off doing than others.”

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