Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health (SCIEH)

  The Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health (SCIEH) is responsible for the national surveillance of communicable diseases and environmental health hazards and the provision of expert operational support on infection and environmental health to Health Boards and Local Authorities in Scotland.

  I will send you by separate cover a copy of our most recent Annual Report and an article that was published in the Health Bulletin by the Centre's previous Director, Dr Ian Jones which sets out more fully the way in which we undertake our role.

  We are of course aware of the proposed organisational changes that are being introduced in England and Wales following the publication of "Getting Ahead of the Curve" and consultation on the proposed Health Protection Agency. In Scotland we are expecting that a similar consultation will take place on health protection arrangements and understand that this will be published some time in November this year.

  Whilst Scotland faces many problems that are similar to those faced in other parts of the United Kingdom, the organisational approach here has been slightly different. At SCIEH we work very closely with our colleagues in the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre and the equivalent units in Wales and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but believe that our contribution is enhanced by the existence of an Environmental Section within SCIEH. This arose following the merger of a separate Environmental Health Scotland Unit and the former Communicable Disease Unit to form SCIEH in the early 1990s.

  The Environmental Section is staffed by a multi-disciplinary group drawn from a variety of professional backgrounds including environmental health, public health medicine and epidemiology, post doctorial scientists and support staff. The group also has access to external Consultants, for example, in environmental health law. The section carries out surveillance and provides operational support and advice on matters relating to the environment and human health. The principle users of the section's services are the Scottish Executive Health Department, NHS Board Departments of Public Health, Local Authority Environmental Services Departments, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Food Standards Agency (Scotland) and Scottish Water.

  The section is also responsible for organising training events and carries out research into topics involving the human health effects of environmental exposures. The section also acts as the equivalent of the Chemical Incident Service providers (regional service provider units) in England and Wales by carrying out surveillance, providing advice in response to chemical incidents in Scotland and linking to the National Focus for Chemicals in Cardiff. The Environment Section has dealt with a wide range of topics, ranging from setting up surveillance systems for food sampling in Scotland, for environmental and chemical incidents and for environmental health. Requests for advice have ranged from the health risks associated with tattooing to assessing the health consequences of smoke flumes from animal pyres during the foot and mouth outbreak. Matters relating to ionising radiation are generally referred to NRPB. However, aspects of non©iodising radiation, particularly mobile telephone EMF radiation, have also been covered in response to demands for information and advice from service users.

  The section is one of six sections within SCIEH and allows us to review and monitor environmental factors that affect health. We would be pleased to provide further information for the committee on this or any other aspect of our work if you would find that helpful. If the committee decides to meet in Scotland then I would also be happy to help facilitate that if you would like me to do so.

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