A traumatic decade ending but what of the next one? - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

A traumatic decade ending but what of the next one?

PERISCOPE continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

WITH the end of the year comes
the end of the noughties.

A decade to remember for perhaps
all the wrong reasons: swine fever; foot-
and-mouth; the twin towers on 9/11 (or
11/9 as it would be known over here);
the rise and rise of TB (Tony Blair and
tuberculosis); the Iraq war; Afghanistan;
the Asian tsunami; Hurricane Katrina
and New Orleans; the global banking
crisis; bankers’ continually high bonuses;
Gordon Brown; European and US
recession; the MPs’
expenses scandal; the
prospect of future
austerity and job losses;
the seemingly
insurmountable
problem of global
warming; the earthquakes
in Pakistan and Haiti.

Has there ever been a decade in
recent history when so many man-made
and natural disasters occurred in such a
short space of time?

There were some good things too.
England won the rugby world cup; we
were all very prosperous whilst the
financial madness lasted; and Andy
Murray managed to convince some of
us at least that a British player would at
last win Wimbledon in our lifetime. Oh
happy days.

Robust manner

So with the end of the decade and with
a new government fresh in power and
champing at the bit, what do the next
10 years hold in store for us? Well,
whatever your political persuasions, one
has to admit that the Coalition has
wasted no time in taking the bull by the
horns and setting about tackling the
deficit in a very robust manner.

I am not an economist (and if I
were I would be none the wiser as
economists seem to be pretty polarised
as to whether we should tighten our
belts or borrow even more to keep us
going), but my gut instinct tells me that
much of what is being proposed must
be right.

One such proposal announced
recently is to dramatically change the
way that legal aid is to work. Having
seen first hand the current waste in the
legal system, I for one am very happy
with this proposal. And whilst justice
for all, regardless of one’s ability or
otherwise to pay, is an essential pillar of
a modern democracy, I have no doubt
that the current legal aid budget is badly
out of control.

After all, why should the average
working man or woman contribute to
the legal costs of divorce “fights” or
petty litigation cases that have little chance of success and would never be
pursued if the complainants had to risk
their own money in fees?

One of the consequences of the
proposed change to the legal aid rules is
that barristers involved in civil cases are
projected to see a 42% drop in their
income. Seems like a lot when put like
that but am I really bothered about such
a reduction in the income of people
who can earn in a month what many
vets don’t make in a year? Somehow I don’t think so. I could
even be persuaded to
wear a silly wig and
black tights myself for
a slice of their
particular pie.

The cuts, though,
are not going to stop at the legal aid budget but are already
biting into the fees paid out to many
hard-pushed vets in practice for routine
government veterinary work such as TB
testing.

How many rural practices are going
to survive in their current form certainly
beats me and there will almost certainly
be knock-on effects on animal welfare
and disease surveillance as a result.
That’s the trouble with cuts: they are
fine when someone else is feeling the
pain but difficult to take when it is your
own eyes that are watering.

One radical proposal from the new
Government is that of licensing farmers
to cull badgers in areas of high TB
incidence in cattle, a proposal that is
currently out for consultation. One has
to applaud the coalition for tackling this
issue head on when it has been pussy-
footed around by successive Ministers
for many years.

Will it work?

Whether the proposal is able to
withstand the full force of public
opinion that may surface against the
approach, or the powerful lobby of the
badger protection groups, remains to be
seen. And if a major cull does
materialise, will it have the desired effect
anyway as the science still appears to be
somewhat contradictory?

But full marks for not sitting on
their hands and instead trying to bring
some sort of urgency to the subject of
bovine TB control, the cost of which,
like legal aid, is currently out of control.

One of the other threats that is
exercising my own thoughts is the risk
of the incursion of exotic disease over
the next decade. Foreign travel is so
common and so easy now and borders
are currently non-existent in many
instances. The UK has the advantage of
being an island state but that luxury has been steadily eroded as the
borders in Europe have
come down with the
development of the single
market.

Of course, the European
Union has brought us many
benefits in terms of free trade
and free travel but there are
warnings out there for us too.
Take, for example, Haiti, another
island state, that has recently for the first
time in recorded history suffered an
outbreak of cholera.

Current thoughts are that it arrived
on the island just a few weeks ago with
Nepalese peacekeepers. We too can no
longer rely on being surrounded by
water to keep out any one of a number
of previously unrecorded and unwanted
diseases.

Fraught with risk

The movement of pet dogs and cats
between mainland Europe and the UK
continues to grow and is fraught with
the risk of introducing exotic disease,
rabies probably being the least likely and
the most easily controlled should it
occur.

DEFRA’s voluntary reporting scheme to
monitor exotic disease in dogs and cats
(DACTARI) has already recorded the
presence of leishmaniasis, babesiosis,
ehrlichiosis and dirofilariasis in dogs in
the UK.

What really concerns me, though, is
Echinococcus multilocularis, a common
parasite of foxes in France, Germany
and other parts of Europe but currently
absent from the UK. The disease in
humans, alveolar echinococcosis, is
serious and frequently fatal.

Whilst the risk of introduction is
currently considered to be extremely
low, if it were to find its way here the
high population density of foxes and
their close association with human
habitation in the UK would make it a
potentially highly risky zoonosis.

I hope that in general terms the next
decade proves to be less traumatic than
the current one.

Let us hope that those vets in
positions of power and influence in the
profession make their voices heard and
do not simply doff their caps when
asked to comment on new proposals as
and when they occur.

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