3 - COVID-19 Pandemic
3.1 The COVID-19 pandemic was not foreseen in the 2020 review. It has had a wide impact across society and has resulted in considerable disruption and change to working practices. Whilst many of these changes will be transitory some will be longer lasting or permanent and these will need to be considered in the development of the SVS.
3.2 The requirements for isolation and home working have had a significant impact on operational delivery across the organisations consulted. Whilst most undertook some visits and inspections following appropriate risk assessment, some did not. This has resulted in backlogs of licencing and inspection work that will take up to 18 months to address.
3.3 Home working has been universally utilised and many foresee this becoming a normal part of future working practice although there was recognition that there needs to be a significant improvement in technology and internet access for this to be fully effective.
3.4 Several organisations commented that some visits are no longer seen as the first resort and some issues can be resolved remotely including post mortems and instructions for the taking of samples. Risk analysis and data checks can inform a reduced reliance on visits. On the downside, a lack of presence on site led to reduced familiarity, opportunities for training and dealing with side issues.
3.5 APHA reported that they had successfully managed small disease outbreaks remotely but recognised that in a large emergency this would be a bigger challenge and that remote management did not optimise training and made the recognition and management of the mental health of staff difficult. Another positive was that staff could undertake longer rotations whilst working from home when compared to being on detached duty.
3.6 Remote working was also seen to provide increased career opportunities for those individuals in remote areas who have commitments that do not allow them to relocate for career advancement.
3.7 Distance learning was also observed to be more inclusive being more time and cost efficient. This had led to a broadening of expertise of Environmental Health Officers. However, it was recognised that not spending time as a team in the office led to a decrease in learning by 'osmosis' from experienced colleagues.
3.8 Other issues that were raised relating to the impact of COVID-19 included:
- inconsistent working practices within and between organisations. This needs to be improved for future incidents of this nature
- a considerable backlog of cases before the courts which reinforces the need for a wider and better suite of enforcement tools
- lockdown resulted in animal welfare problems being experienced as single farmers could not get help from friends and family for routine work as well as emergencies
3,9 There was consensus that a single operational delivery body would have been more resilient and could have maximised the management of the challenges experienced and the resources available.
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