British Veterinary Association (BVA) President Justine Shotton has called for urgent multi-stakeholder action to improve recruitment, retention and rates of return in the Welsh veterinary workforce.
In her speech to around 75 guests at BVA’s Annual Welsh Dinner at Cardiff City Hall on Tuesday 5 July, Justine Shotton said that Welsh vets had worked incredibly hard to keep animals healthy, protect public health and keep the food chain moving against a backdrop of COVID-19, Brexit and a recent surge in pet ownership.
However, she cautioned that this has been an incredibly challenging time, saying: “But we also need to acknowledge that this has come at a significant – and ultimately unsustainable – cost to the profession’s capacity and well-being.
“If we are going to cope with ongoing and new or unforeseen challenges ahead, we need action now to improve recruitment, retention and rates of return to veterinary work, to ensure that all existing vets can feel supported, safe and rewarded in their careers, and to encourage future vets from all walks of life to follow in our footsteps.”
Addressing guests including Chief Veterinary Officer Christianne Glossop, MSs, key representatives from animal health and welfare organisations and colleagues from across the veterinary profession, BVA’s President called on Welsh and UK governments, animal owners, the profession itself and vets of the future to take a range of actions to help create a “flexible, resilient and future-proofed workforce”.
These ranged from ensuring that new vet schools such the new site in Aberystwyth are adequately resourced and funded, to reminding animal owners to “Respect Your Vet” and the difficult decisions that they have had to make to keep colleagues and clients safe during the pandemic. Justine Shotton also appealed to the next generation of would-be vets to give the profession a try, and said that there are many routes into a rewarding veterinary career.
Reflecting on recent months, Justine Shotton said that the profession’s “resilience and dedication” had really shone through in how vets had responded to and mitigated against recent disease outbreaks in Wales and across the UK, including the Avian Influenza outbreak. She also recognised that BVA welcomed the general direction of travel of the Welsh Government’s refreshed Bovine TB eradication programme, saying:
“Steps towards more informed biosecurity considerations when purchasing cattle, changes to the testing regime, increased information sharing and improvements to the compensation regime all help to strengthen our lines of defence against this devastating disease.
“Moving forward, it’s imperative that those at the frontline of these efforts – particularly farmers and private vets – feel empowered to take bold steps forward on TB control, with good trust and lines of communication between themselves and government.”
Turning to pet welfare, Justone Shotton sounded a note of caution that the surge in pet ownership during the pandemic had tested veterinary capacity and also presented problems with “some new owners placing looks over health in the breeds that they choose, and unscrupulous breeders prioritising profit over welfare.”
She said that BVA will now be turning its attention to the rise of canine fertility clinics in Wales and the rest of the UK, saying: “We are building a picture of the scale and severity of this worrying trend, and already seeing multiple red flags in some clinics, which may be operating with no regulation or veterinary oversight.
“I know that many vets and dog welfare organisations in Wales such as Hope Rescue are getting increasingly worried about this trend too. Please rest assured that we are committed to working together to do whatever we can to clamp down on unregulated and dangerous practices.”
The BVA President ended her speech with a tribute and presentation of BVA life membership to Welsh Chief Veterinary Officer Christianne Glossop, who will be stepping down in September after 17 years in the role.
Addressing Christianne, she said: “You are a true champion of the veterinary profession and someone who shares our strong conviction that cross-species animal health and welfare must be at the heart of all relevant policy.
“This has also seen you consistently pushing public understanding of the critical role that vets play in animal health and welfare, food production and public health in Wales, and the need for them to be supported, celebrated and called on regularly for their expertise.”
Christianne Glossop responded to the speech as BVA’s Guest of Honour.