Though it may not be that well known, Environmental Health Officers have been at the forefront of the pandemic response across the country.
However the industry faces arguably it’s biggest challenge yet, a crisis of funding and recruitment.
According to CIEH “The CIEH Workforce Survey found 87% of local authorities are relying on agency cover and 56% have had vacancies unfilled for more than six months.”
The shortage of Environmental Health Officers is not a new problem in the industry, but given the amount of work and backlog from the pandemic, it is a problem that is only getting worse.
Currently, there are only 3,300 fully qualified Environmental Health Officers working at District and Unitary Local Authorities across the UK.
But why is it so hard for Environmental Health teams to recruit?
We spoke to several managers from Local Authorities to delve deeper into the issue and get their thoughts on where the problem is coming from.
Lack of graduates coming through?
“The number of people applying and graduating from EH degrees is low. Those that do graduate are not up to scratch, the quality of knowledge and experience is low. They don’t need to complete as much work experience in comparison to years ago.
Years ago students would be sent across to different cities to complete a varied list of responsibilities ie. industrial areas for land contamination and air quality, 200 hours in a slaughterhouse for meat hygiene.
The authorities don’t have the time or resources to build up the graduates that would come in as their practical knowledge just isn’t there. As the teams are already full to capacity with work, giving them this is another weight, however, they understand it needs to be done to move forward.”
Head of Environmental Health & Regulatory Services, Central England Local Authority
Too great a focus on qualifications?
“The spectrum is too broad and this means that not all officers who qualify could hit the ground running (and sometimes it could be a number of years before they get to the desired standard). Housing is a typical case in point and does seem to be the Cinderella service for training and development too.
The focus is on the qualification and not so focused on the CPD; I have come across some officers who, once they can call themselves EHO don’t have to undergo CPD or reassessment and, in a particularly heavily regulated industry fail to stay up to date with current thinking. Think of learning to drive as a comparator.
Finally, there does not appear to be a mechanism for dealing with “rogue” officers who could be bringing the profession into disrepute. Further, there ought to be a clearer distinction between public and private officers to avoid confusion for members of the public.
I would like to see more focus on specialisms (I would say that as mine is the housing field), and I think the CIEH could do more to support the profession by spending less time building the generic requirements and more time honing and refining specialist skills that local authorities in particular so badly need. “
Environmental Health Manager at Midlands-based Council
“Feels like the people at the top, leading CIEH don’t really have much care for what is happening down on the ground of the industry. As it doesn’t affect them on a day to day, it comes across as they don’t care. Feels it’s the same narrow-minded leaders at the top who are not bothered to put their hands up and identify there is an issue. Not one can be bothered to be proactive and tackle it.”
Environmental Health Manager, Central England-based Local Authority
Some strong words from a few people we spoke to, however, all is not lost.
The CIEH have called on the government to provide greater support and funding for Environmental Health departments up and down the country.
Oyster Partnership are working on an exciting partnership designed to help graduates get into work in the public sector. We are also actively working with Senior Managers up and down the country to help them retain current staff and keep people in the profession.