looking into the future: an impossible dream... - Veterinary Practice
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looking into the future: an impossible dream…

Periscope continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

I SUPPOSE that I am a sceptic and sometimes a cynic, especially when those “worthies” amongst us start to pontificate about a grand plan and claim to be able to shape the future. Gordon Brown’s declaration of “No more boom and bust” is a salutary lesson concerning the dangers of predicting events to come.

I therefore suggest that the recently published VetFutures document, Taking Charge of Our Future: A vision for the veterinary profession for 2030, be digested with a large bucket of salt. Furthermore, I respectfully suggest (okay, I admit it, not that respectfully) that predicting where we will be in five years’ time is extremely difficult and so to extrapolate this to 15 years hence is nigh on impossible and nothing more than a work of fiction. Shame on me for being so outspoken.

The document certainly makes interesting reading. But I cannot for the life of me understand why it needed any sort of research or focus group participation to arrive at its six aims and ambitions for the future. These could have been settled on with a simple bit of “brainstorming” (if I’m still allowed to use that terminology in this day and age) over a pub lunch and a couple of pints.

Because we have after all been banging on about the profession taking a lead in animal welfare for as long as I can remember (and got nowhere) and about the need to reduce the level of substance abuse, mental ill-health and suicide within the profession (and got nowhere too).

These are two of the key ambitions stated and there is nothing new or innovative in that. I don’t believe that putting thoughts such as this into an expensively produced glossy document will be any more successful at attaining these aims than past attempts have been.

Even more cynically, I guess that the beauty of looking fully 15 years into the future is that those who initiated the whole thing will have been long forgotten by the time the post-mortem into the strategy’s failure is conducted.

Blame will fall on the shoulders of those who will be persuaded to carry the initiative forward in the years to come. Or it may just be that the whole thing will be quietly forgotten in the fullness of time and it will be frowned on to even speak its name.

It’s not that I am not sympathetic to its very creditable goals. It’s just that I think it is naïve in thinking that it can shape the future in the way it desires simply by stating that to be its intention.

Harold MacMillan’s response to the question as to what was the biggest challenge facing him as leader, “Events, dear boy”, is probably more relevant to the future direction of the veterinary profession than any proscribed attempt to shape it.

After all, who, 15 years ago would have foreseen the current market share of veterinary practice that is now taken by the corporates? Only perhaps the leaders of the corporates themselves.

If we examine one of the stated aims, to become “A leading force in animal health and welfare” by developing and promoting an animal welfare strategy for the profession, this is surely a non-starter? One has only to have read the letters pages of the various trade publications to know that the views of vets on major animal health and welfare issues can be diametrically opposed.

I’m thinking of the trial badger culls in this respect where we have had letters pleading for and justifying (through science and otherwise) completely antagonistic actions. One could even argue (and some have done) that the Government itself, supported by the CVO, was flying in the face of received scientific evidence in initiating the culls.

So how would this all t in with the VetFutures proposal of developing and promoting an animal welfare strategy for the profession? What about the controversy surrounding the extensive culling that took place during the 2001 FMD outbreak that had vets lining up on both sides of the argument? How would the development and promotion of an animal welfare strategy for the profession fit into this?

For all the profession to be “singing from the same hymn sheet” about so many of the aims in the Taking charge of our future document is an impossible dream.

The veterinary profession is made up of a diverse range of individuals who entered the profession for a whole range of reasons which may include one or more of the following: a “love” of animals; a desire to help animals; a desire to help people; a preference for animals over people; a “love” or interest in natural history; an interest in farming; inspired by a plethora of “reality” TV shows on the profession; academic excellence “forcing” them to apply for a highly-contested degree programme. There are no doubt many others besides.

The veterinary profession is made up of passionate vegetarians and committed carnivores; those who would ban horse racing and those who train and own racehorses; those who abhor hunting and shooting and those who hunt and shoot. Do I need to go on or is the point I’m making clear?

How is it possible to have an animal health and welfare strategy for the profession as a whole? What if someone (a vet) speaks out against the content of such a strategy? Are they to be hauled before the RCVS disciplinary committee and be charged with disgraceful professional misconduct or for bringing the profession into disrepute? This is a recipe for stifling individual freedom and thinking and should be resisted.

Following on from the above paragraph I am also concerned about the aim to develop exceptional leadership and to speak with one voice. In my view, exceptional leaders emerge in spite of “the system” and are not developed by “the system”. And for the reasons given above I believe that “speaking with one voice” will only be possible by making it difficult or unpleasant for the dissenters to be heard.

I am always wary when those already in positions of power develop grand ideas on the pretext of improving things for the common majority. History tells us that all too often in such cases it very soon goes to their heads.

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