A survey of Western Australian local governments has shown that their highest public health priority is food safety, followed by sewerage, vector control and waste management.
The survey, conducted by the Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA (PHAIWA) at Curtin University of Technology, obtained information from more than 75 local governments throughout the state.
PHAIWA Senior Research Fellow, Dr Melissa Stoneham, said the survey showed that councils placed less emphasis on broader public health issues such as obesity, reducing alcohol-related harm and child health.
“Local governments tackle a broad array of issues, but they have great opportunities to increase the services they provide in areas such as obesity and injury,” she said.
“Environmental health services as we know them are based on the way we were in the 19th century. It is time to provide services that meet the needs of the 21st century.”
The survey also showed that councils found it difficult to recruit and retain environmental health staff, particularly in rural and remote areas with 56 per cent of councils having difficulty recruiting environmental health practitioners, while 42 per cent had difficulty retaining these professionals.
Dr Stoneham said an unexpected finding showed that 61 per cent of councils did not allocate any time for Indigenous health and 35 per cent spent no time on health promotion.
“Environmental health factors such as housing, personal hygiene, animal control and sanitation are vital to improving the health of Indigenous Australians, especially those living in rural and remote areas,” she said.
The survey showed that 22 per cent of responding local governments had used non-government health organisations to assist with their public health work.
“We are keen to see more partnerships between councils and the non-government sector, which has much expertise to contribute. The major problems in public and environmental health can not be solved by individuals or organisations acting alone,” Dr Stoneham said.
“We recognise the pressures facing local governments, which are often under-resourced.
“We hope the survey findings will encourage them to work with others in the community in dealing with some of our most pressing health problems.”
City of Mandurah Environmental Health Manager, Brendan Ingle said: “Most local governments recognise the importance of these broader current public health issues and try their best to influence them with the resources they have, but there are important behind the scenes public health activities that must continue to be completed through the direction of legislation.
“Achieving these requirements will be a limiting factor for many local governments in the activities they can undertake.”
PHAIWA has produced fact sheets which are being provided to NGOs and local governments around WA.
The full report is available at www.phaiwa.org.au.
Contacts: Dr Melissa Stoneham, Senior Research Fellow, Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA; 0421 113 580; email@example.com or Mr Brendan Ingle, Manager Environmental Health City of Mandurah; 9550 3746; Brendan.firstname.lastname@example.org