Update on national volunteers register, contact with public health agencies and contact tracing

29 April 2020, Gary McFarlane, Director CIEH Northern Ireland, and Kate Thompson, Director CIEH Wales

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Since we launched our National Environmental Health Volunteers Register in March, we have been greatly encouraged that over 400 people have signed up to offer their services in a voluntary capacity.

The speed at which those in the environmental health community have committed themselves to our register demonstrates the drive in the profession to play a key role in tackling this emergency. We would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who has signed up so far.

Over the past few weeks, we have been in contact with public health agencies across England, Northern Ireland and Wales to promote the skills of Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) and how they could support the contact tracing efforts. We are now able to update you on the progress of these discussions and how our volunteer register is likely to be used.

Contacting the public health agencies

Following the establishment of our volunteer register, we wrote to the public health agencies in England, Northern Ireland and Wales to advise them of the availability of over 400 volunteers, predominantly composed of EHPs from the private and business sectors. As a result, we have been in positive and productive conversations with all three agencies, and where requested have shared the register with them.

The agencies are now engaging with local authorities, and discussions are taking place about the priorities and implications for the local authority environmental health workforce. We are confident that all three will use the skills of EHPs in this area going forward.

What are we doing in England?

We have provided Public Health England (PHE), at its request, with access to the volunteers register. Our offer has been warmly received by PHE colleagues who are very grateful to all those in the environmental health community that have come forward to offer their skills and support in this time of emergency.

At the end of last week, PHE wrote to Directors of Public Health to provide an update on the progress of their contact tracing work. The letter outlined discussions PHE has been having with the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) to design the contact tracing approach across the country. PHE also highlighted in the letter the links it has established with CIEH and others to take forward the next phase of the response.

PHE expects it will need approximately 18,000 people to carry out the contact tracing programme. Of these, 3,000 are expected to be qualified public health and clinical professionals and the remaining 15,000 to be call handlers. The Government expects the PHE-led service to ‘ramp up quickly’ and be integrated with the CV19 App being developed by NHSX.

What are we doing in Northern Ireland?

The Heads of Service and SOLACE in Northern Ireland are now in direct conversations about resourcing the immediate emergency phase of the Public Health Agency (PHA) contact tracing programme. We are providing PHA with a list of volunteers, drawn from our register who can support the longer-term resourcing of its work in Northern Ireland.

What are we doing in Scotland?

We have updated colleagues in Scotland on all the work we are doing in the other parts of the UK.

What are we doing in Wales?

The Welsh Government confirmed at the end of April that local authority EHPs from a range of sectors will be deployed both in outbreak management and contact tracing. Local authority EHPs have been working closely with Public Health Wales in connection with care homes. Our volunteer register is available to Public Health Wales and local authorities, and we have received confirmation that our offer of support to the COVID-19 response is being pursued. The Wales Heads of Environmental Health and Directors of Public Protection have been involved in discussions on these communications.

Promoting the profession in the media

The role EHPs can play in tackling this pandemic has received extensive interest from the media. We have spoken to wide array of journalists across several media publications to promote the professional role of EHPs in this emergency.

How can I get involved?

If you would like to volunteer your services but have not yet done so, please complete our online form to add your details to the register.

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