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RHE Global

All Change for Port Health and a New RHE Global Service

Guest blog by Will Hatchett who has teamed up with our sales director, Jon Williams

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RHE Global logo
RHE Global logo

RHE Global

8 Feb 2024

Shipping containers
Shipping containers
Shipping containers

Delayed laws now coming into force have put port health on the map more than at any time in the past 30 years.

Smarter and more connected cargo and inventory systems will be essential to adapt to new requirements. Will Hatchett reports.

Normally, it takes a health scare for port health, a service that is generally well below the radar, to get into the news. Over the past few decades, we have had no shortage of examples – the BSE crisis, Sudan red, dioxins, eggs infected with salmonella, the ‘horsegate’ scandal of 2013 and, last month, fears of African swine fever from pork being smuggled through Dover.

There are unique reasons why, in the UK, protecting our borders from human and animal diseases was allocated, in the 19th century to port sanitary authorities, under the wing of local government. And also why, in this country, we have a curious hybrid public official known as an EHO, or EHP, rather than a European style ‘veterinary officer’, who is not actually a vet, as we understand the term, to police the biosecurity of our seas and skies.

Our system, as with many British institutions, because we had them first, has evolved over time, through custom and practice. It was never designed from scratch, to fulfil a single purpose. And it’s about to change. Get ready for two new pieces of jargon (you may know them already) – Border Target Operating Model, or Border TOM, and the demise of the familiar Border Inspection Post, or BIP.

They are now to be called, border control posts BCPs. Common health entry documents (CHEDs) have been retained, but they will now be channelled through a national import of products, animals, food and feed or IPAFF system. The new controls are designed to be self-financing, through the charges levied on exporters.

Here’s the context. In 1993, official controls of live animals and animal and plant products imported from the EU ended. After two years of delays, controls are now coming back. The Border TOM sets out a new approach to importing live animals and animal and plant-based foods, under the banner of the Single Trade Window, designed, in the government’s words, to be “the world’s most effective border”.

Imports will now be categorised as high, medium or low risk, with controls weighed according to both the commodity and the country of origin. Simplified digitised health certificates will be applied to both imports and exports, through a single gateway. Later – we still don’t know when – under a controversial ‘trusted trader’ scheme, exporters offering evidence that they are meeting regulatory requirements will be exempted from some official controls.

Reduction in physical controls

Large ports and airports which have created long-established relationships with EU exporters have had a lot more work to do since the re-imposition of import controls in January. And there will be new BCPs including Lewes and Eastbourne on the English south coast and Pembroke Dock, Fishguard and Anglesey on the Welsh coast, serving the border with Northern Ireland.

The government is also seeking to move import controls inland, in its quest for the Holy Grail of ‘frictionless trade’. Under controversial plans, Dover, for example, won’t be a BCP. That role will fall to Sevington, 22 miles inland. Dover District Council has warned that this will leave the country wide open to ‘white van smugglers’ bringing in potentially infected Romanian pork.

So, a new system and set of acronyms – Border TOM, BCPs, IPAFFs – good or bad, threat or opportunity? Martin Walker, independent Port Health Consultant, says of the reforms: “It’s difficult to argue against the rationale of having risk-based controls. My feeling is that it will all depend on the detail. My main reservation is about the reduction in physical controls and checks. Generally speaking, they are going to be reduced from at least 20% to an expected level of 1%, as the default. There will be fewer consignments being looked at. A lot of the new system will be purely based on paperwork checks, rather than looking at products of animal origin, which is how you often pick up problems.”

But a new status quo, a blank slate, gives an opportunity for a re-evaluation of existing systems and innovation. He adds, supporting a position adopted by the CIEH: “There is a shortage of veterinary surgeons. It will help to ease burdens if we widen the definition of who can sign documents and authorise or reject imports. I believe that the EHPs are fully competent for this role, so why shouldn’t they fill it?”

Supporting the new border controls, RHE Global is developing a consignment management system for a large UK airport, based on the UK’s new Single Trade Window, building on its expanding portfolio of public protection software.

Jonathan Williams, RHE Global’s Sales Director, explains that the service, which has taken several years to develop, will also be available for sea-based BCPs. Linked to Defra’s IPAFF system, the cloud-based service includes innovative features including live inspection forms that can be filled in on a tablet.

He says: “Pre-notifications of imports can be sent to us and the software will apply checks, whether it’s documentary identity or physical sampling checks. The system will be able to accommodate local requirements. For example, a BCP may be encountering a problem from a particular country. Exporters will be able to log in to the system, anywhere in the world. It will tell them how much they owe.”

The service will be “future-proofed” he explains. AI-based technology is set to be added as it becomes available, including the ability to detect fraudulent applications for exporter’s health certificates. Alongside this innovative product, RHE Global will be adding a dedicated port-health library to its RIAMS service.

As this crucial area of environmental health, which has protected the county since the nineteenth century, expands, RHE Global will adapt its service using the latest developments in software to ensure that port health can respond rapidly to ever-emerging threats in a fast-moving world.

Will Hatchett has been a journalist since 1986. He was editor of Environmental Health News from 1998 until 2018. The views expressed here are purely his own.

William Hatchett. Journalist


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© 2023 RH Environmental Limited trading as RHE Global. All rights reserved.

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© 2023 RH Environmental Limited trading as RHE Global. All rights reserved.