E.coli O157 & Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome

Financial pressures putting Scotland's public health at risk

1st March 2012

The continuing financial pressure on Scotland’s public sector could have a serious and long term impact on public and environmental health according to the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS).

Figures recently received, following freedom of information requests to all 32 local authorities, show that in the space of less than three years the total number of Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) and Food Safety Officers (FSOs) in Scotland has fallen by almost 11%.

Tom Bell, Chief Executive of REHIS said: "We are acutely aware that every public service has been under scrutiny for some time now, however our concerns are the implications for public health if the numbers of professional staff, who protect our communities and businesses not only through the regulation, inspection and prosecution of environmental health matters, but also using advice and education continues to fall."

"Our further concerns are that many of the jobs that are disappearing were held by those with the most knowledge and experience built up over many years and who likely had the highest cost attached to them. From a simple financial perspective this may seem logical however, paradoxically, cutting back on highly trained and experienced Environmental Health Officers could increase the requirement for their expertise. Reducing the numbers of EHOs and FSOs can only have a negative impact on how public and environmental health issues are controlled."

Many local authorities have plans to further reduce the number of EHOs and FSOs and that must heighten concerns with the public and everyone with an interest in protecting public health.

Concern at the reduction in these frontline public health jobs is expressed by Prof Hugh Pennington, the world renowned microbiologist: "The bugs, have not gone away but are in fact are evolving and presenting new challenges. The enormous German E.coli outbreak last year was the most lethal one ever and it was caused by a new bacterium, E.coli O104. This is why we need more public health protection, not less!"

As well has needing to be constantly prepared for dealing with emergencies and unforeseen situations, environmental health professionals have an increasing demand on their skills to deal with more day to day issues and, as the predicted public spending cuts continue, this should have concerns across our communities.

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