Environmental Health in the news: 10 – 14 August 2015

Newspaper stack 

By Steven Fifer, PR Manager for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH)  

This week saw the Government announce plans to help speed up shale gas exploration planning applications and if needs-be strip local communities of the chance to decide on fracking in their area, allowing ministers to bypass councils entirely. Fracking is a key interest for the CIEH as the process will potentially have an impact on the local environment and wellbeing of local communities, prompting our fracking expert and CIEH Northern Ireland Director, Gary McFarlane, to compile a statement in response.

Smoking was another key public health issue in the news this week. First we saw the government alert motorists to the upcoming ban on smoking in cars and this was followed by the Royal Society for Public Health urging health chiefs to take a less negative attitude towards e-cigarettes. Researchers from Edinburgh University have also produced evidence that found stillbirths have dropped by almost 8% in England since the smoking ban was introduced.

There doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by where there isn’t a story focusing on the planned £200m worth of cuts to public health budgets. The Shield’s Gazette reported that South Tyneside’s health budget is to be cut by £887,000 and in an unprecedented move, Thurrock Council’s top elected representative for Public Health is calling on other councilors across the country to see if legal action can be taken to counter public health funding cuts by the government.

On Friday, there was a shocking story where police officers and EHOs from Barking and Dagenham council found 55 people living in three east London houses. The discovery happened whilst they were inspecting rented properties in the area as part of a borough clampdown on rogue landlords and in the worse incident, 22 people were found living in an illegally converted terraced house with only four bedrooms.

The CIEH is very interested in housing conditions in the private rented sector as poor housing conditions can be a major cause of accidents and ill health. The majority of landlords provide good quality houses and that’s why the incident in Barking and Dagenham is so alarming. It is the poor and vulnerable who will most likely suffer the most as they are reliant on the private rented sector for accommodation and their situation is made more acute with news that the previous quarter saw more than 11,000 evicted from rental properties in England and Wales, an 8% increase from the previous year

Food and in particular, food hygiene ratings made the news several times this week. There must have been something in the Midlands’ air as both the Birmingham Mail and the Coventry Telegraph reported on their supermarkets and takeaways that scored a zero rating. This was followed-up by an article which highlighted 10 of the dirtiest shops in Britain, all given a ‘zero’ food hygiene rating, meaning urgent action was required.

With all these food hygiene stories it was nice therefore to see a slightly different story with the Telegraph, one amongst many publications reporting that Astronauts on board the International Space Station have grown their own lettuce. Nasa described this as a key step in making possible a human mission to Mars and as a leading awarding body in food safety, we hope the lettuce was grown and prepared in clean and hygienic conditions!

And another story that has been raging in the news this week has been how Chelsea boss, Jose Mourinho, has demoted the football club’s team doctor and physio after they came onto the pitch to tend to an injured player at an important stage of the match. You might be wondering what has this got to do with environmental health but in a blog by football writer David Conn, he raises the question that Chelsea’s standpoint suggests doctors should compromise their overriding duty to players’ health and safety, and instead take long-distance punts on the seriousness of injuries, taking into account the state of play in the match.

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