A CALL for action to address a shortage of environmental health officers has been made by a senior Fife councillor.

Tim Brett, who is leader of Fife's Liberal Democrat group, called for measures to help fill five vacancies in the department, which should boast 17 members of staff.

"These key staff have a major role in protecting the public from harm and deal with food safety such as inspections of restaurants, takeaways and food production facilities," he said.

"The EHOs also have a major role in dealing with the present COVID-19 crisis as they work closely with the public health team of NHS Fife as part of Test and Protect and other arrangements.

"On looking into this, I discovered that Fife offers lower salaries than other local authorities for EHOs and I am sure that this is also contributing to the recruitment problems.

"The situation, however, is not just affecting Fife – across Scotland as a whole there are 40 vacancies of EHOs and this needs to be urgently addressed."

Fife Council chief officer Nigel Kerr said environmental health officers were a "key component" of the core public health workforce.

“The outcome of the Scottish Government Public Health Reform Specialist Public Health Workforce Commission considers that the role of environmental health services should be strengthened to increase its influence across all local government functions and enable it to take on a leadership role in relation to local government’s contribution to health protection and the wider environment," he explained.

“The Society of Chief Officers of Environmental Health in Scotland and the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland recognise this challenge and have established a workforce strategy group which has set short-, medium- and long-term recommendations to protect the existing workforce and seek to grow new environmental health professionals for the future.”

Convener of the council's environment and protective services committee, Councillor Ross Vettraino, said they were aware of the issue.

"As long ago as last year, the shortage of environmental health officers was scrutinised in detail by the environment and protective services committee, which is the committee with responsibility for overseeing the delivery of the environmental health service," he said.

"I am looking to see the concern, which was expressed then about the salary differential, being addressed during the forthcoming budget process.

"The Scottish Government is aware of the situation and there is ongoing dialogue between the Government and the Society of Chief Environmental Health Officers. The allocation of additional money is a clear indication that the government is aware of the importance of environmental health and gives me cause to be optimistic that the government will join with local authorities to address the current shortage of qualified staff."