This report (Delivering with less – the impact on environmental health services and citizens) is the first in a series that are going to look at how councils are coping with the increasing demands to ‘Deliver with less’ and it’s something that we are keen to look at further. In this report we found that financial austerity is having a big impact on the ability of local government to keep delivering environmental health services.
Many of us may not be aware of what it is that makes up the day-to-day work of council environmental health services. A quick office poll would probably bring some surprises if you said to people that environmental health covers things like pollution control, inspecting housing to ensure they are in good condition and overseeing reported sickness of passengers and crew on ships to offering advice and information on things like healthy eating, tobacco and alcohol misuse, sexual health and mental health issues.
We are, however, aware of the more common role of environmental health such as pest control and food hygiene but the role of the environmental health officer is much broader. Earlier in the year we highlighted this important day-to-day work by following the progress of some environmental health trainees via our blog. The blogs written by environmental health trainees Caryl and Stephen gave us an insight into a typical day of an environmental health officer and it was not what most would expect.
Who is keeping your town healthy? – The inside track on life as an Environmental Health Trainee- Part 1
Who is keeping your town healthy? – The inside track on life as an Environmental Health Trainee- Part 2
Who is keeping your town healthy? – The inside track on life as an Environmental Health Trainee- Part 3
From educating adults about exercise v food consumption to teaching children the correct way to wash their hands to protect against germs or infection it was clear that raising awareness is as much a part of their role as the more commonly known role of enforcement that we associate with environmental health.
This is an important point, it is expensive to deal with big challenges as we have seen with the recent ebola outbreak in West Africa. Donations from around the world are helping deal with the crisis with Sierra Leone and other affected areas unable to fund the containment of it themselves.
While this is an extreme example it serves to demonstrate how prevention is better than cure, in particular when resources are stretched. This is why we make the recommendation in the report that councils improve engagement with residents, not only over planned budgets and changes to services but also in educating people about the role that environmental health services play and the small changes we can all make to help with things such as disease control or just simply cleaning up after our pets.
Environmental health is one of those ‘unseen’ services that keep us all safe but not a lot of people understand what it is that they do, how important it is or even how we can help. So take the time to read the blogs, read the report and find out more about the people who are keeping our towns healthy.
Nick Selwyn is a Local Government Manager at the Wales Audit Office, with responsibilities for our programme of all-Wales studies. He has worked for the WAO for eight years in a variety of roles and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing.