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Health Protection in the Borders describes the Public Health speciality that focuses on protecting the public from being exposed to hazards which damage their health, and to limit any impact on health when such exposures cannot be avoided.

It involves:

  • Ensuring the safety and quality of food, water, air and the general environment
  • Preventing the transmission of communicable diseases
  • Managing outbreaks and the other incidents which threaten the public health.

NHS Borders, under the Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act 2008 is mandated to protect public health from infectious disease, contamination or other health hazard. The Act also outlines the powers available to local authorities to order, or to undertake, a range of public health measures in relation to premises and things to prevent, or prevent the spread of, infectious disease or contamination.

Health Boards have powers to investigate public health incidents or outbreaks and take steps to protect the public from significant health threats. In practice statutory legislation is rarely needed to investigate an incident but if needed, due to a lack of cooperation, there exists power of entry, power to ask questions, power to take samples for analysis, power to quarantine individuals or restrict activities to prevent the spread of infection. If necessary, an investigator (known as a ‘Competent Person’) can apply for a warrant to enter premises and carry out the investigation from the local JP or sheriff.

These duties are carried out by the Health Protection Team who is responsible for the surveillance, investigation and control of communicable disease and non-infectious environmental hazards. This service is available 365 days a year, 24/7.

Functions of the Health Protection Team

Include the following:

  • Surveillance and control of communicable disease
  • Planning for, as well as identification and management of, outbreaks in the community and major hospital outbreaks. Involves taking effective measures to reduce the risk of, or limit the extent of, exposure to hazards and controlling their effect on the health of individuals and communities
  • Risk communication: informing and educating the public in ways, which aid understanding, allay unnecessary anxiety and facilitate individual and collective action to reduce risk.
  • Provision of the Competent Persons to exercise, on behalf of the board, the functions assigned to them in the Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act 2008
  • Support and advice with regard to environmental hazards to SBC, Emergency Services, Scottish Water, State Veterinary Service, and General Practitioners
  • The provision of the NHS Immunisation Co-ordinator. The provision of domestic vaccination and immunisation information and advice to primary care and other health professionals
  • The provision of BBV Co-ordinator to co-ordination of bloodborne virus work
  • Provision of education to a wide range of professional groups
  • Research

Delivering these functions

The Health Protection Team provides strategic leadership for protecting and promoting health and preventing illness. We rely heavily on developing effective well-managed multi-agency partnerships for health.  We acknowledge the crucial operational part played by community and hospital colleagues.  Effectively delivery of health protection functions requires:

  • suitable professional education and training
  • networks of professionals and agencies, operating locally, regionally and nationally, which co-ordinate policy, procedures and action
  • effective management, clear systems of accountability (including measures to assess the quality and impact of health protection services) and adequate resourcing of health protection services

The Consultant in Public Health (CPH) is responsible for:

  • Surveillance, prevention and control of communicable disease and infection in NHS Borders. This also includes the co-ordination of the health aspects of response to non-infectious environmental hazards such as chemical incidents.
  • Assessing the evidence of effectiveness of health and healthcare interventions, programmes and services. This includes screening, vaccination and immunisation programmes
  • Policy and strategy development and implementation
  • Leadership and collaborative working for health protection

The Health Protection Nurse Consultant and Health Protection Nurse Specialist (HPNS) provide specialist nursing input into the core function of ‘Health Protection’ as well as the wider public health agenda in partnership with the CPH. Roles and responsibilities include:

  • Strategic leadership and a facilitated co-ordinated professional response to ensure an effective nursing communicable disease and infection control service is delivered and developed in the community
  • Provision of infection control advice to a wide range of non-NHS organisations e.g. care homes, nurseries, educational establishments and social care providers
  • An expert practitioner advice and response service
  • Active participation in the public health management of individual cases and outbreaks of infection

The Director Public Health and Consultant in Public Health

  • Provide valuable support to the Health Protection team when required including contribution to the out-of-hours rota

Administration support is provided by a Business Manager and three Personal Assistants to ensure the smooth operation of the team with their skills of office management

Other staff have a role to play in Health Protection. These include a Community Infection Control Nurse, Flu Immunisation Project Coordinator and a Resilience Manager.