Environmental health is at its best when it strives beyond regulation and pools resources with its community to tackle inequalities and poor health, according to the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS).
This is just one observation in REHIS’ manifesto that urges Scottish politicians to assist EH in meeting four key challenges to boost public health through and beyond COVID-19.
The manifesto champions partnership working, a holistic and local approach, and dismisses the ‘health and safety gone mad’ deregulation agenda. REHIS also wants to see H&S – which is not devolved – brought under Holyrood.
Regulation is described in the document as “the bedrock” for protecting public health “in its widest form through achieving compliance”. But it added: “We are committed to public health and look beyond protection through regulation and want to see health improvement via aspirational means.
“Today’s aspirations should become tomorrow’s standards, enshrined in legislation, if appropriate. Regulation by itself can be self-limiting. Yet some local authorities define EH as a purely regulatory service.
“The better and more effective partnerships involving EH are those where agencies pool their resources and tackle inequalities and poor health through community-based projects.”
The four key challenges outlined in the manifesto are: adequate capacity and training; sustaining public health and ensuring a level playing field for business recovery and growth; healthier and safer communities through education, training and qualifications; sustainable locally based EH.
Capacity is a top concern as between 2009 and 2019 the number of Scottish local authority EHPs fell by 23%, and the number of food safety officers qualified to enforce food law fell by 39%. Long-term reduction in EH resources in Scotland has been exacerbated by the pandemic and Brexit.
The importance of local EH was highlighted, as was the fact that while local authority EHPs worked with national bodies – such as Food Standards Scotland and the Health and Safety Executive – they were “cognisant of, and reactive to, local issues and concerns”, which was invaluable.
With Glasgow set to host the UN Climate Summit (COP26), the manifesto said this was a “powerful reminder that local environmental controls and sustainability improvements can make an international difference”.
The manifesto said there was nothing wrong with EH legislation or regulatory systems in Scotland and that most enforcement is achieved through “advice, education, advocacy, support and persuasion” with formal enforcement only used when these options fail. And that this was supporting businesses with good standards.
“This is important during the pandemic,” the manifesto said, “and will be crucial as business activity increases during the economy’s recovery. Nobody should be able to profit or gain commercial advantage from disregard for the safety and welfare of the community. The public expect nothing less.”