Coronavirus (COVID-19) Adaptations Expert Advisory Group minutes: 6 March 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 6 March 2023.

Attendees and apologies


  • Professor Tim Sharpe, University of Strathclyde


  • Neil Granger, Scottish Property Federation
  • Dr Chris Iddon, The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers
  • Victoria Sanderson, Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
  • Patricia Anderson, HSE
  • Stephen Long, Scottish Futures Trust (item 5 to 6)
  • Dr Carole McRae, Public Health Scotland
  • Patrick Mackie, Local Authority Environmental Health
  • Professor Stephen Reicher, St Andrew’s University
  • Dr Alice Street University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Diane Dixon, University of Aberdeen
  • Professor Gill Hubbard, University of the Highlands and Islands
  • Christoph Ackermann, BDP

Guest speakers

  • Graeme Fox, Director of Technical, Building Engineering Services Association (BESA)
  • John Renwick, Construction Sector Manager, Energy Skills Partnership (ESP)

Scottish Government attendees

  • Professor Linda Bauld, Chief Social Policy Advisor, Scottish Government
  • Dr John Harden, Deputy National Clinical Director, Scottish Government
  • Covid Ready Society Policy Officials, Directorate for Population Health


  • Fiona Richardson, COSLA
  • Professor Vittal Katikireddi, University of Glasgow
  • Dr Stephen Garvin, Head of Building Standards, Scottish Government
  • Hazel Burgess, Safer Workplaces, Directorate for Economic Development


  • Covid Ready Society Policy Official

Items and actions


The Chair welcomed members to the sixth meeting of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Adaptations Expert Advisory Group. The Chair provided a summary of the interim meeting held on 1 March with a smaller group to explore a ventilation survey in public sector buildings and noted that the minutes of the meeting had been circulated to all members.

Agree minute of previous meeting

A Scottish Government (SG) official confirmed the minutes from meeting four have now been published on the Group webpage. Members were invited to comment on or propose corrections to the minutes of meeting five. No comments were raised therefore the minute was agreed and will be published on the Group webpage.

State of the pandemic update

Dr Carole McRae (CM) of Public Health Scotland (PHS) provided a brief update on the state of the pandemic, confirming that the prevalence of COVID-19 remains stable, and Scotland is in a recovery stage. COVID-19 will continue to be monitored to identify any need to change interventions. CM also highlighted that it is important to note other diseases are in circulation including influenza, norovirus and streptococcal. 

Consideration of the present state of skills relating to ventilation improvements in Scotland and next steps

The Chair welcomed two guest speakers to the meeting; Graeme Fox (GF), Director of Technical at Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), and John Renwick (JR), Construction Sector Manager at Energy Skills Partnership (ESP). The Chair provided background detail to this agenda item, explaining that both guest speakers would provide an overview of the current ventilation skills landscape, highlight any existing challenges or gaps, and any current work underway to develop skills in ventilation in relation to recommendation 9 of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Ventilation Short Life Working Group (SLWG).

Graeme Fox (GF) delivered a presentation to the Group discussing the state of ventilation in existing buildings and the skills landscape in Scotland. GF discussed the long-term lack of investment in existing buildings to make improvements to ventilation. He also discussed the lack of funding for training and development in skills that are relevant to making improvements to ventilation. This included a summary of apprentice numbers currently in Scotland for related occupations e.g., heating and ventilation, refrigeration and air conditioning, heating and ventilation and service and maintenance. He also observed that existing training in this area was not focussed on pathogen and disease transmission – highlighting that there were 287 apprentices currently enrolled in these disciplines in Scotland.  

GF noted that BESA has developed short course on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and is currently working towards an IAQ Risk Assessment short course that will support professionals to identify when and where improvements are necessary. 

The Group discussed the new IAQ course aimed at building managers to improve understanding of mechanical ventilation systems and how this can translate to air quality improvement.

The Group discussed the value of raising awareness around poor ventilation and IAQ; if there are limited funds or skills to address problems it can raise anxiety, however members generally agreed that awareness can make people change behaviour and low cost solutions can often be very effective e.g. understanding the value of opening windows to promote fresh air flow and reconfiguring the layout of rooms to maximise air flow. GF advised that capital investment would be needed for longer term improvements.

An SG official highlighted some the steps taken by the Scottish Government towards addressing recommendation 9 of the Ventilation SLWG including two Continuous Professional Development sessions organised by the Office of the Chief Architect, and a skills mapping exercise in the autumn of 2022 to identify and promote existing ventilation training opportunities in Scotland to relevant sectors.

Professor Stephen Reicher (SR) highlighted the social cost benefit analysis included in the Royal Academy of Engineering Infection Resilient Environments report to assess the full spectrum of costs and benefits of improving infection resilience in the UK’s built environment and transport systems – and the costs of not doing so – and asked whether any other similar analysis had taken place. GF advised that he was not aware of another cost-benefit analysis of this sort but that such an exercise would be useful. 

The group discussed a potential gap in ventilation related skills in non-mechanically ventilated buildings (naturally ventilated buildings) as most existing training, coursework and professional qualifications are aimed at mechanical systems.

The Chair noted that existing building capacity limits were based on fire safety and did not take into account IAQ, and that in the future this could be an area to explore further. 

John Renwick (JR) delivered a presentation to the Group on Scotland’s colleges and the numbers in employment, apprenticeships and education in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration sectors. JR advised that demand for specialist skills is projected to increase by 2045, driven by retrofit and net zero objectives. JR stated that he would support the development of a specialised ventilation career pathway to meet this demand and professionalise the sector. 

JR also highlighted ongoing work to develop recommended minimum skills and qualifications related to Scotland’s green heat sector to ensure the right people, skills and technology are in place to make homes and buildings warmer, greener and cheaper to run. Skills Development Scotland are also undertaking a review of apprenticeships. They may consider developing a recognised ventilation career pathway for new entrants.

JR put forward a series next steps that could be taken:

  • develop a ventilation skills strategy
  • legislation that will demand change for all aspects of ventilation
  • develop recognised ventilation career pathways for new entrants and upskilling for existing workers
  • cultural change to increase standards and raise awareness
  • funding, with medium- and long-term aspirations
  • upskilling for trainers, lecturers and government agency staff
  • a capital investment plan
  • establishing a specialised SLWG of ventilation tradespeople to develop competence requirements for the trade

The Group discussed JR’s presentation and it was highlighted that change in buildings is often driven by necessity, therefore it would be important for change to be driven by policy or legislation, alongside a capital investment plan. The Group also discussed the need for ongoing monitoring to ensure minimum standards are met, therefore regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authority health and safety inspectors would need to be involved. 

Adaptations in clinical and care settings

The Chair welcomed Dr John Harden (JH), Deputy National Clinical Director, Scottish Government, to the meeting to discuss adaptations in clinical and care settings and embedding protective behaviours.

JH explained that adaptations in clinical settings have evolved over the past few years in response to the pandemic, and although adaptations have lessened there is a higher level of universal precautions than pre-pandemic times e.g., hand hygiene, use of gloves and mask wearing. There is also additional monitoring in place in elective pathways to support patient care and recovery.

JH reflected on the legacy of the pandemic and improved practices that will be of benefit for all respiratory pathogens. Greater attention and consideration are also being placed on wellbeing and recognising the pressures faced by healthcare staff.

In terms of future planning, JH advised health care settings are balancing operating as close to normal as possible whilst being prepared for increased restrictions if a threat arises in the future; ensuring that systems to support infection resilience are as robust as possible. Part of this work has included ventilation surveying within NHS estates and focusing on wider population health to improve resilience to pathogens in the future.

JH also discussed care settings with the Group and learning from the pandemic which has highlighted the vital importance of social and physical connection e.g., the creation of ‘bubbles’ with family and friends.

The Group discussed the impact of poor ventilation on health and the cost to society. World Ventil8 Day, which will take place on 8 November annually, aims to promote awareness of this.

Overall, the Group agreed that learning from adaptations in clinical and care settings could be translated to other sectors as a population level approach to health resilience.

Any other business, next meeting and close

The Chair thanked members for their time and valuable contributions and asked that members confirm their availability for the next meeting scheduled to be held at the end of April.

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