The responsibility for assessment of the health impacts of the recent flooding in England lies with Public Health England (PHE) and their partners including local Government and the national health service.
The Department of Health and PHE worked closely with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during the re-publication of the National Flood Emergency Framework (NFEF), in collaboration with other agencies including NHS England and the Environment Agency. Published in October 2013, the NFEF describes the role of the Department, PHE and other Government Departments in relation to flooding and includes a section specifically on the health consequences of flooding. The Department, PHE and other agencies continue to work closely in co-ordinating and responding to a flood emergency.
When alerted to the likelihood of imminent severe weather, PHE implemented its severe weather reporting protocols, which include systems for monitoring the health and wellbeing of people in the affected areas.
Local Strategic Command Groups (Gold Command) are being supported, where appropriate, by a PHE-led Science and Technical Advice Cell (STAC) which receives local information and intelligence on potential health and wellbeing problems from a variety of sources, including primary care clinicians. In addition, all PHE Centres liaise routinely with Directors of Public Health and NHS England Area Teams to receive and respond to population health concerns.
Flood water from rivers and land is a known risk for the common bacterial gastro-intestinal infections. Nationally, PHE carries out active surveillance for outbreaks of infectious diseases, and related illnesses (gastro-intestinal, skin, and respiratory) and is using this information on a day to day basis to monitor the health of the population in the areas affected by flooding. These data include:
1. The statutory reporting of infectious diseases by all clinicians to PHE;
2. The statutory reporting of all significant infectious organisms detected in laboratories to PHE; and
3. The monitoring by PHE's Real Time Syndromic Surveillance Team (ReSST) of health provider systems, such as the GP In-Hours, Out-of-Hours and Emergency Department Syndromic Surveillance Systems, and calls to NHS Direct/NHS111 services, that detect the appearance of characteristic symptoms in the population to give early warning of potential problems before these statutory disease reporting symptoms confirm the presence of a potential problem.
PHE continues to ensure that clear guidance is being given regularly to the general public about minimising any health risk. This includes avoiding contact with flood water, hand hygiene and sanitation and the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning associated with the use of petrol/diesel or fuel-driven generators indoors. All our experience from previous floods tells us that where people follow such health advice there are no significantly increased rates of illness.
Departmental officials are in close contact with PHE and NHS England colleagues and I met with the chief executive of PHE and discussed this matter last week.