CIEH has been working behind the scenes with government departments on a register of EHPs to help with the pandemic work in England – and was given the green light just before the PM’s press briefing yesterday afternoon.
The register is backed by the Ministry of Housing Community and Local Government, and the Department of Health and Social Care, and Boris Johnson’s full speech is available here.
CIEH has had a volunteer EHP list since the early days of the pandemic but this new register will be on a more formal footing, will be hosted by the Local Government Association (LGA), and will be a place where local authorities can recruit EHPs. These could include both public sector and private consultant EHPs who have been furloughed, those who have recently retired, recent graduates, and in some cases undergraduate students. CIEH will be working with the LGA over the coming weeks to get this up and running.
The register recognises the important and holistic role EHPs are playing in the pandemic. Local government EH is fully engaged on the front line in many ways: contact tracing, food inspections, food and medicine distributions, assisting business re-openings, as well as dealing with antisocial behaviour, noise, bonfires, illegal dumping and more.
Set against a background of austerity and cuts, to which all local authorities have been subject, the pandemic has further stretched local government service. It is hoped the register will provide a central place for local authorities to recruit the professionals most needed to carry out pandemic work, and for preparation for the end of the Brexit transition period.
Gary McFarlane, CIEH’s director for Northern Ireland, who brokered the deal with his CIEH Wales counterpart Kate Thompson, argued the value of EH professionals had been highlighted by the pandemic, and highlighted the flexibility of their skills and their connected professional thinking.
He said: “EHPs are trained in a number of core areas central to the current crisis. Infectious disease control and investigation; public health; housing; occupational health and safety; environmental protection and food safety and standards; – these are all areas central to many of the challenges that local authorities face.
"EHPs are able to join the dots across a number of disciplines and have been invaluable to local authorities in this crisis being able to relatively easily redeploy to areas of need outside their normal day-to-day.
“They undertake undergraduate training and then develop on the job competencies and are professionally trained and assessed. There is now a real need for such a pool of flexible, responsive, professionals who can hit the ground running and which the sector could draw from to access short term additional capacity.”
McFarlane added: “Environmental health has an important and unique contribution to make to improving public health and reducing health inequalities. CIEH campaigns to ensure that government policy addresses the needs of communities and business in achieving and maintaining improvements to health and health protection."
McFarlane said the CIEH would be speaking to representatives from the devolved administrations in both Wales and Northern Ireland to see whether they needed and would also support the register.
EHPs work closely with their local government colleagues, and in a second phase the CIEH will also be collating on to the register other local authority professionals whose skillset is critically needed in pandemic and transition work. These could include, for example, sexual health nurses who would be ideal for contact tracing, and health and safety practitioners that could assist with business reopening and support.
CIEH will soon announce how EHPs can put themselves forward on the new register, and also be in touch with those on the volunteer list to ensure they can be transferred to the new register.