CIEH survey finds resilience of environmental health services at tipping point

Blog prepared by Sharon Smith, CIEH’s Regional Stakeholder Manager and Project Lead for the Environmental Health Workforce Survey 2014/15 

Workforce survey infographic 1  

Over the past 18 months, we have been busy talking to Environmental Health Managers working for Local Authorities across England to help us build a clearer picture of what impact the budget cuts are having on existing services and how local councils are managing to deliver these essential services.   

We started off by sending a questionnaire to environmental health managers in all of England’s Local Authorities followed by structured interviews with a stratified sample of environmental health managers.

All the results are now in and we are pleased to announce that the report on the findings of Environmental Health Workforce Survey 2014/15 is now available for our members and the wider public to read.

The key message that’s been brought to light is that following continued cuts to public spending, the resilience of vital environmental health services designed to protect businesses and the public are close to or already at a ‘tipping point’.

As a reminder, environmental health services cover a range of provisions including as example: food hygiene protection in restaurants and takeaways, addressing poor housing conditions and overcrowding, health and safety in the workplace and inspecting tattoo parlours.

Any further reorganisation of services, coupled with continued reduction in resources, may have serious consequences for business, as well as to the long-term health and wellbeing of people in the UK.

In terms of key headlines, the survey revealed that the average budget for environmental health services has fallen by 6.8% in real terms between 2013-14 and 2014-15, with London boroughs experiencing the largest cuts at an average of 20% over the past two years.

Naturally the cuts have largely had a detrimental impact on environmental health services and the results show that almost half of the respondents (47.4%) said current resources were just about adequate to provide a basic statutory service but left no contingency and any further cuts would seriously compromise delivery. Looking to the future, those authorities that were able to estimate their budget for 2015-16 expected a further fall in real terms of 30%.

Workforce survey infographic 2 

As a result, some environmental services have been stopped, the most common being pest control, and staffing levels have also been reduced, with 55% of respondents saying that further staff reductions were planned over the next 12 months.

The survey also identified that just under half of the managers interviewed said they were moving to a more generic rather than specialist EHP model, providing a fully integrated, cross-cutting service. So even through adversity, these results demonstrated Environmental Health Managers are dynamic and innovative in responding to change.

Going forward, we’re going to conduct another but this time with environmental health managers working within the private and other employment sectors.

And it’s important to point out that we’re not stopping at the Environmental Health Workforce Survey as this forms part of the CIEH’s over-arching EH Futures project, which is setting out our vision to help support and plan for the environmental health profession over the next 10 years given the Governments current agenda.

The Environmental Health Workforce Survey 2014/15, as part of the EH Futures project, further strengthens our belief that Government and local authorities have a responsibility to support and protect environmental health services. Furthermore, key decision-makers should also recognise preventative environmental and public health interventions in both the public and private sector provide long-term health benefits and can also significantly contribute to savings in the NHS and reduce the burden on health care services.

As an organisation, the CIEH will continue to work closely with the Government, its key agencies and local government to evolve services, encourage innovation and provide guidance in order to maintain vital environmental health services. This in-turn will help business and local communities remain healthy, safe, productive and resilient.

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