Consultation published for updated Bread and Flour regulations

Scotland is to be part of a UK-wide consultation on proposed amendments to the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998, which requires the addition of certain nutrients to non-wholemeal wheat flour to protect public health.

The 12-week consultation, which launched on 1 September, is being led by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), in collaboration with The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Wales and Northern Ireland (NI).

The consultation seeks views on proposals to make adjustments to the nutrients currently added to non-wholemeal wheat flour, and the addition of folic acid, with the aim of improving public health outcomes for Scotland and the wider UK population.

The addition of folic acid to help reduce the incidence of foetal neural tube defects follows a previous consultation and an agreement by the Scottish Government, UK Government and devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland, to proceed with its mandatory fortification.

The package of proposals being put forward will lead to improved public health, support UK industry, assist enforcement authorities and protect consumers.

You can find out more about the details of the consultation and take part by visiting the DEFRA website. The consultation closes on 23 November.

AQMA in East Dunbartonshire to be revoked 

East Dunbartonshire Council have announced that their Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in Bearsden can now be removed due to improvements made, with backing from the Scottish Government and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

The AQMA covers a 60 metre-wide corridor along the A809/A810 to the junction with Antonine Road, to the south beyond Canniesburn Toll and to the east of Roman Road Car Park, with a small section of Stockiemuir Road also included.

It was given that status in 2011 after concerns over levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PM10).

Annual mean (average) levels of NO2 and PM10 in the Bearsden AQMA are now well below national objectives. 

The annual mean NO2 concentration in 2010 was 47 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre of air) and in 2019 this fell to 32 µg/m3 and then further decreasing to 20 µg/m3 in 2020. 

For PM10 Annual Mean concentration in 2010 was 25 µg/m3. This feel to 11 µg/m3 in 2019 and then further fell to 8 µg/m3 in 2020. 

This is well below Scottish air quality objectives which have annual mean (average) of 40 µg/m3 for NO2 and 18 µg/m3 for PM10. 

Guidance recommends that where pollutant levels have reduced and remain below objectives for at least three consecutive years, an AQMA order should be revoked.

That was the case in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, so not influenced by the reduction in traffic during lockdown periods.

Both the Scottish Government and SEPA have agreed the AQMA status should be revoked.

It is thought to be due in part to improving emission standards of vehicles, improvements within the overall road network and measures undertaken by the Council as part of its Air Quality Action Plan.

The Council will now publish a Notice of Intention to revoke the AQMA, and seek the views of statutory consultees, local businesses and the public.

The Bearsden Air Quality Action Plan will remain in place, and the Council will continue to monitor levels and work to reduce pollution across East Dunbartonshire.

Figures for 2020 show NO2 and PM10 pollution levels continue to fall.

Councillor Paul Ferretti, Convener of Place, Neighbourhood and Corporate Assets, said, “This is excellent news, but it is not the end of the journey. We will continue to work to reduce air pollution across East Dunbartonshire, along with a range of partners.

“The removal of the AQMA is based on evidence – gathered before the pandemic, when traffic levels fell significantly – and backed by advice from the Scottish Government and SEPA.

“We’re committed to a number of policies and strategies to improve the environment for the benefit of our residents and generations to come.”

Smoking banned near hospital buildings

Patients and healthcare staff will no longer face second-hand smoke at hospital doors as a nationwide ban came into effect on Monday 5 September.

The new legislation The Prohibition of Smoking Outside Hospital Buildings (Scotland) Regulations 2022 means anyone found lighting up within fifteen metres of a hospital building could face a fixed penalty notice of £50 or a fine of up to £1,000 if the case goes to court.

This is the latest step in the Scottish Government’s plan to create a tobacco free Scotland by 2034 and supports the voluntary smoke-free hospital grounds policy introduced in 2015.    

The new law will apply to NHS hospital settings used for the treatment and care of patients and includes a ban on lighting up beneath overhanging structures.

Public Health Minister Maree Todd said:

“Everyone knows that smoking is bad for our health and hospital patients in particular should be protected from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

“This new law is the latest step in our bold plan to make Scotland tobacco-free by 2034 – building on our dedicated stop-smoking services and early intervention measures to stop youngsters picking up the habit altogether.

“Anyone looking to quit can contact the NHS QuitYourWay Helpline or speak to their local pharmacy to discuss the range of help available.”

ASH Scotland Chief Executive Sheila Duffy said:

“Extending current legislation to include outdoor areas will have the positive impact of protecting people from the harmful effects of breathing in toxic tobacco smoke through vents, windows or doorways while they are being treated and recovering in hospital. 

“We urge people who smoke to be considerate in remaining outside the 15-metre perimeter, ensuring hospital patients do not face unnecessary additional risks to their health caused by inhaling harmful substances.

“This is particularly important as Scotland challenges the normalisation of smoking on our journey towards becoming tobacco-free.” 

Facemasks no longer recommended in social care

Social care staff and visitors are no longer being advised to wear facemasks at all times under new guidance published.

The recommendation has been lifted due to a sharp drop in coronavirus infections and a reduction in severity of illness, which has been driven by Scotland’s successful vaccination programme which has so far seen more than 12 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in Scotland.

Care home residents and their loved ones will benefit from these more relaxed visiting arrangements. Masks and face coverings in social care may still be worn if recommended in certain situations, such as a local outbreak of COVID, or if staff deem it necessary. Staff and visitors remain free to wear one if they choose.

This guidance balances the risk of harm from COVID-19 with the impact masks can have on communication, mental wellbeing and rights and choices of those working in and using social care services.

Social Care Minister Kevin Stewart said:

“Our phenomenally successful vaccination programme has driven down infections and saved the NHS from untold pressures.

“Removing the need for facemasks in social care settings including care homes is the latest step in our path to recovering from the pandemic.

“This will make communication and relationships easier in care settings, benefiting mental health and promoting the rights and choices of those working in and using social care.”

E.Coli O157 Outbreak in East Lothian Update

A total of 56 confirmed cases have been linked to an E.Coli O157 outbreak in East Lothian. The outbreak resulted in the closure of five nurseries, all of which have since reopened following inspections from East Lothian Council environmental health team, the Care Inspectorate and NHS Lothian Public Health team.

NHS Lothian formed an Incident Management Team (IMT) to investigate the cluster of cases. The IMT was made up a number of organisations including NHS Lothian Health Protection Team, Public Health Scotland, East Lothian Environmental Health Department, East Lothian Education Department, and the Care Inspectorate.

The role of the IMT was to identify cases, prevent further spread of the infection and put in place robust control measures to safeguard public health.

Work is still continuing behind the scenes by the health care scientists in epidemiology and microbiology to try and identify the source of the infection.

The outbreak caused the closure of three nurseries in Haddington and two nurseries in Musselburgh. 

Church Street Pear Tree Nursery in Haddington was originally closed on August 2 after a number of children fell ill and went on to test positive for E-Coli O157.

The sister nursery Meadowpark Pear Tree Nursery was closed on August 12 as a precaution when sickness symptoms were reported before E.coli O157 went on to be confirmed on August 18. Musselburgh Private Nursery on Bridge Street was then shut on August 19.

West Road Pear Tree Nursery in Haddington and Musselburgh Private Nursery, Stoneybank, were both closed as a precaution following sickness symptoms. The infection was not confirmed at West Road Pear Tree Nursery.

All staff and pupils of all the nurseries apart from West Road Pear Tree were formally excluded under the Public Health Act. 

Dr Josie Murray, Consultant in Public Health Medicine and Chair of the multi-agency Incident Management Team (IMT), said: “We are really encouraged to see all of the nurseries open their doors once again and welcome back their staff and pupils.

“We know it has been a really difficult time for everyone involved, especially in accepting some of the control measures which were vital in containing the infection and stopping its spread within the community.

 “On behalf of the IMT, I would like to thank everyone for working with us throughout this rapidly evolving and complex outbreak.”

Letters providing the most up to date information have been issued to families directly in some circumstances and via the nurseries distribution systems.

The complex outbreak has evolved rapidly and a set of FAQs were developed to help answer questions from concerned families and carers and can be found on NHS Lothian’s website.

If families have incurred financial losses due to the public health control measures for the E-Coli outbreak, they are entitled to submit a claim for compensation and details are contained in the exclusion letters. 

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland would like to express our deep sadness at the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. 

Our thoughts and condolences are with the Royal Family.

Regular asymptomatic testing for COVID-19 paused in NHS and Care homes in England

The UK Government has announced that regular asymptomatic testing for COVID-19 in all remaining settings in England will be paused from 31 August, as COVID-19 cases continue to fall. The settings include NHS and care homes.

Free testing for the public ended on 1 April as part of the government’s Living with COVID plan, but asymptomatic testing continued to be used in some settings during periods of high case rates.

Settings where asymptomatic testing of staff and patients or residents will be paused include:

  • the NHS (including independent healthcare providers treating NHS patients)
  • adult social care and hospice services (apart from new admissions)
  • parts of the prison estate and some places of detention
  • certain domestic abuse refuges and homelessness settings

The UK Government has said that testing will remain in place for admissions into care homes and hospices from both hospitals and the community, and for transfers for immunocompromised patients into and within hospital to protect those who are most vulnerable.

Testing will also be available for outbreaks in certain high-risk settings such as care homes.

Year-round symptomatic testing will continue to be provided in some settings, including:

  • NHS patients who require testing as part of established clinical pathways or those eligible for COVID-19 treatments
  • NHS staff and staff in NHS-funded independent healthcare provision
  • staff in adult social care services and hospices and residents of care homes, extra care and supported living settings and hospices
  • staff and detainees in prisons
  • staff and service users of certain domestic abuse refuges and homelessness services

Now’s the time to get gas checks says HSE

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are encouraging homeowners to get gas checks to keep homes safe.

​Recent domestic gas incidents have attracted significant media coverage. HSE is reassuring people they need to be careful but not unduly concerned. ​

​Gas incidents can be devastating but remain extremely rare. There were 25 gas related fire and explosion incidents reported in 2020/2021, despite there being over 22 million households using gas across the country.  ​

​HSE recommends homeowners get all gas appliances (boilers, cookers, and fires), flues, and pipework regularly maintained and serviced every year by a qualified engineer listed on the Gas Safe Register. ​

​The Gas Safe Register is the official list of gas businesses which are registered to work safely and legally on boilers, cookers, fires and all other gas appliances. By law, anyone working with gas in domestic or commercial premises must be listed on the register. Gas Safe registered businesses can be found on their website.  ​

​Getting household gas appliances and pipes checked in summer can ensure your home is safe while also helping to keep bills lower in winter. ​

​That’s the message from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who are encouraging people to get gas checks now before the weather turns colder later in the year and households use more gas. ​

​Gas appliances should be regularly checked to prevent gas leaks and stop carbon monoxide being released. Regular servicing can also help gas appliances run more efficiently and in turn save money on household bills.​

​Help is available for those struggling to pay for checks.  In some circumstances, suppliers can offer free gas safety checks through the Priority Services Register. For further advice and information homeowners can contact their gas supplier (the company they pay their bills to).​

​John Rowe, HSE policy lead for gas safety, said: “Gas is an incredibly safe way of fuelling your house. Serious incidents are still extremely rare, although of course for those involved they can be devastating.​  ​

​“We should all be careful and not unduly concerned about using gas in our homes. We’re encouraging householders to get a gas check. Doing so could save them money in the long run but will also keep them safe. The summer months are perfect time to get your appliances checked so come winter you know they are working safely and efficiently.”​​

​For more information on gas health and safety visit HSE’s website.​​

Tests on CBD products in Kent find most contain illegal substances

Scientific analysis on a number of CBD  (Cannabidiol) products has found that the majority of those tested contained illegal drugs. The testing has been carried out on behalf of several local authorities by Kent Scientific Services, the Official Control Laboratory operated by Kent County Council.

At the same time, several products were found to contain hardly any CBD element at all.

CBD is classed as a novel food and is currently being assessed for safety by the Food Standards Agency. The FSA has allowed about 6,000 products to be marketed in the UK, pending final approval. If the product is on the list, it can be sold; if it is not on the list, it cannot.

KSS Public Analyst Jon Griffin who led the testing said: “CBD is the non-psychoactive element of cannabis. It is suggested it can have benefits including reduced anxiety, assisting with sleep and managing pain. On its own CBD is not an illegal controlled drug.”

The results of testing on the first 61 products for various interested bodies have shown that:

  • 44 samples contained one or more of the psychoactive elements of cannabis. These are controlled drugs and therefore are illegal
  • Several contained significantly less CBD than claimed on the pack. Up to 99% deficient.
  • 2 did not claim to contain any CBD but did. Neither of these contain any controlled drugs
  • 2 contained products which are not on the FSA list.

So, in total, of the 61 samples, 72% contain one or more of these psychoactive elements of cannabis.

Mark Rolfe, the Head of KSS, said: “The issue with this, in my view, is that people don’t know what they are consuming. We have tested one sample for a member of the public who has failed a workplace drugs test having, he says, never touched drugs in his life. He has, however, consumed this product which we have found to contain the drug for which he failed the test.”

The kind of products involved, he said, are wide ranging. Some are foods (and thus covered by the FSA list) and cosmetics and some vapes. Neither of the latter two types are covered by the FSA list.

Examples of the products are:

  • Cola chunks
  • Marmalade
  • CBD oil
  • Gummy bears
  • Cookies
  • Lollypops
  • CBD drinks
  • Vapes of various flavours including lemon drizzle, watermelon and raspberry
  • Muscle balm
  • Beard oil

Decline in HSE’s “proactive” construction inspections highlighted in Unite’s research

Research by the trade union Unite has highlighted a significant decline in the number of ‘proactive’ inspections that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has made in the construction sector since 2013/14.

HSE’s unannounced inspections of construction sites have fallen by 31% over the past eight years, according to Freedom of Information (FOI) data obtained by the Unite trade union.

Unite has highlighted the figures because it says that construction remains one of the most hazardous sectors in Great Britain and points to the latest HSE statistics , which show that 30 construction workers died in the workplace in 2021/2022. 

The Union discovered that the HSE undertook 11,303 unannounced inspections in 2013/14 but that number dropped to 7,793 in 2021/22. 

The data gleaned showed that the biggest regional decline was in Wales where inspections had dropped by 57%, Unite said. After Wales, southeast England (51%) and London (46%) saw the biggest drops.  

Unite said that it also found the HSE had significantly reduced the number of enforcement notices that it had issued to employers to improve safety conditions after an on-site inspection. The union said that the number had declined from 2,293 in 2013/14 to 1,119 in 2021/22. 

‘The HSE must explain and justify the sharp decline in construction inspections,’ said Unite’s national officer for construction Jason Poulter. 

‘For too many employers, it is only the fear of being caught which ensures they follow safety laws.’

A HSE spokesperson said: “The number of inspections we carried out while COVID restrictions were in place was inevitably lower. The number has increased significantly in the last year, focused on sites with the highest risk to workers. Inspections are only one part of what we do to keep workers safe.”

They added that, during the pandemic, the HSE carried out over 400,000 COVID safety spot checks, across all workplaces, to reduce the risk posed by COVID-19 transmission. They said: “During the spot checks, HSE provided advice and guidance to manage risk and protect workers, customers and visitors, but where some businesses were not managing this, HSE would take immediate action.

“This could range from the provision of giving specific advice, issuing enforcement notices, stopping certain work practices until they were made safe and, where businesses failed to comply, it could lead to prosecution.” 

One year until Scotland’s deposit return scheme

Scotland’s deposit return scheme will go live for consumers in one year’s time (16 August 2023), giving businesses and consumers an easy way to boost recycling.

The scheme, which will be the first in the UK, will play an important part in Scotland’s journey to a circular economy. Estimates by Zero Waste Scotland suggest that the scheme will reduce emissions by an average of nearly 160,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – the equivalent of 109,000 return flights from Edinburgh to New York.

The 20p deposit will also provide an incentive to reduce littering, helping to cut the number of bottles and cans discarded in streets and green spaces.

The scheme is being delivered by Circularity Scotland Ltd., an industry-led body representing drinks producers, retailers and trade bodies of all sizes. This business-led approach is common among many of the most successful schemes in Europe, include Denmark, Finland, and The Netherlands.

Infrastructure for the scheme is now beginning to be rolled out across Scotland, and businesses of all sizes are being encouraged to act now to make sure they are ready for the scheme launching this time next year.  

Businesses who make, import or sell drinks in Scotland may have legal responsibilities under the scheme. For drinks producers and importers this includes registering to be part of the scheme – they won’t be able to sell their products in Scotland unless they have registered. For retailers, wholesalers and hospitality businesses, this means making sure any drinks they sell in Scotland are from a registered producer and charging the deposit on each drink. They may also have to operate a return point or offer a takeback service, collecting empty containers for recycling and return deposits to consumers

Businesses can register with Circularity Scotland, to make sure they receive information that will help them prepare.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), who are the regulator for the scheme, has also launched a campaign that will help businesses understand their legal responsibilities and the steps they need to take to prepare. SEPA is responsible for the producer registration service, which opens in January 2023. Producers will need to either register directly with SEPA or through the scheme administrator, Circularity Scotland. SEPA will also carry out audits, inspections, and enforcement activity, ensuring the scheme is a success.

Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater said:

“Scotland is leading the way in the UK on delivering a circular economy. By putting in place a deposit return scheme, we are delivering on the public’s desire to see action on plastic and other waste, and making an important contribution to the response to the climate emergency.

“With thousands of return points across the country, it will be as easy to return your empty bottle or can as it was to buy it in the first place. This will help to nearly double recycling rates for the containers included in the scheme, while reducing the amount of litter on our streets and cutting CO2 emissions.

“This scheme is being delivered by industry for industry. By putting businesses in charge, we are making sure that it works for them. With one year to go until the scheme goes live for consumers, I would encourage all businesses and organisations that produce, ship or sell drinks to get involved with the scheme now.”

Update on Non A-E Hepatitis investigation in Scotland

Two new UK research papers explain the likely causes of sudden onset hepatitis seen in children aged 10 and under, is due to co-infection with adenovirus 41F and a second virus AAV2 (or less commonly HHV6).

The two investigations, one led in Scotland by the University of Glasgow, the Medical Research Council, Centre for Virology Research, and supported by Public Health Scotland, and the second led by Great Ormond Street Hospital were published on 25 July 2022. The extensive investigations explored various factors which could have acted as a trigger for the illness, including an infectious cause, exposure to environmental toxins, and genetic factors.

Cases were initially reported in April 2022 and as of 25 July 2022, the total number of cases identified in Scotland was 38. No new cases were identified in Scotland between 13 June 2022 and 25 July 2022.

The Scottish research identified an additional genetic factor which may explain why some children developed severe illness whilst others did not. The investigation noted the presence of a marker showing a genetic predisposition in cases of severe disease but found this marker much less commonly in the general population.

Explaining why only some children go on to develop hepatitis, Dr Jim McMenamin, Head of Health Protection, Consultant Epidemiologist, Public Health Scotland said:

“These findings are important. They appear to explain why not all young children with adenovirus infection develop severe disease. Importantly, children need to have a co-infection with an additional second virus that can affect the liver and also have a specific genetic make-up before they go on to develop severe disease.

“Whilst its reassuring that cases have now fallen, we continue to remind parents and care-givers that they should continue to ensure children practice good hand and respiratory hygiene to help reduce the spread of common infections, like adenoviruses.

“If a child shows signs of jaundice, where there is a yellow tinge in the whites of the eyes or on the skin, then parents should contact their GP or other Health Care professional.”

Read the Glasgow study here.

Read the London study here.