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Pest control hit as environmental health services reach 'tipping point'

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Environmental health services have reached a “tipping point” following budget cuts of about 30% between 2013-14 and 2015-16, according to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

Almost half (47%) of the 139 environmental health service managers that responded to the CIEH’s workforce survey said their resources were only just adequate to provide a basic statutory service.

The most common service to be stopped by councils over the past three years was pest control and it was the most likely service to be at risk over the next three years too. Other services considered at risk included non-mandatory aspects of housing regulation, air quality monitoring, as well as food safety and health and safety inspections.

More than half (55%) of resondents said further staffing reductions were planned over the next 12 months. That was split almost equally between expected forced redundancies and natural turnover and retirements. Less than one in 10 (9%) said they planned to increase their team’s numbers.

Graham Jukes, chief executive of the CIEH, said cuts to local government, and subsequently environmental services, were not helping the government’s aim of reducing long-term costs to the NHS. He said: “Local councils have borne the brunt of the government’s social and economic change programme over the past five years and this has meant essential environmental health services are at a tipping point.

“Environmental health managers cannot continue to support the government’s change agenda under continued budgetary attrition or else there is the very real risk that events like food poisoning outbreaks, fires in multi-occupied housing or increased antisocial behaviour will become increasingly prevalent and more expensive to deal with.”

A fifth (21%) of respondents said their council already charged for some environmental services while 5% said they were considering introducing charges.

Meanwhile, the survey highlighted mixed relationships between environmental health service teams, public health directors and health and wellbeing boards.

A quarter (26%) of environmental health managers in upper-tier authorities, and almost half (47%) at districts, said the organisational relationship with the local director for public health was considered to be ‘poor’ and with ‘no strategic grounding’.

The extent of engagement with health and wellbeing boards was equally mixed as 39% of upper-tier authorities and 38% of districts said they had formal relationships, while 27% and 29% respectively said they had no direct involvement in their work.

The CIEH is now calling on the government and local authorities to support and protect environmental health services.

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