Page last updated at 13:27 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 14:27 UK

Concerns over environmental health as experts leave

e.coli on a petri dish
Scotland has the highest e.coli rate in the world

Environmental health experts have warned that council cuts to their services could pose a risk to the public's health.

Scotland has the highest rate of E. coli infection in the world.

The country's leading microbiologist, Prof Hugh Pennington, has said experts are struggling to maintain the fight against the infection.

He said: "Worryingly environmental health now seems to be being driven by HR departments."

Rod House, president of the Royal Environmental Health Institute for Scotland, said many senior officers were taking early retirement as councils seek to reduce their wage bills, yet fewer trainees are being appointed.

Holding their own

Professor Pennington, who has chaired two public inquiries into major outbreaks of E.coli O157, said he was concerned about the number of experienced personnel being lost due to budget cuts.

He said that this, in turn, would reduce the essential experience required to effectively deal with major public health outbreaks like E.coli O157, Anthrax and H1N1 (swine flu).

With regards to E. coli 0157 he said: "The regulators, mainly environmental health officers, in Scotland are doing a good job in protecting the public but are only just holding their own.

The regulatory, inspection and prosecution work of environmental health officers is paramount to keep on top of the situation in Scotland."

A COSLA Spokesman said: "Councils are fully committed to the health prevention agenda and protecting the public.

"At a time of considerable challenge in relation to finance it is crucial that services are structured to ensure the maximum public protection. This is more about outcomes by way of prevention rather than about inputs around the number of environmental health officers."

Mr House said environmental health officers were not pleading a "special case" at a time when severe cuts are expected across the board in the public sector.

However, he said they were warning that if the coming cuts are as severe as they expect then some areas of Scotland will be under-resourced to deal with any future outbreaks.

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