What will be the post-Brexit impact on the profession? - Veterinary Practice
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What will be the post-Brexit impact on the profession?

Lydia Chambers from the British Veterinary Union in Unite offers some reflections on how the departure of the UK from the EU will or might affect veterinary practices.

the impact of Brexit on the veterinary
profession – from worries about the wider economic consequences,
to concerns about the loss of
employment rights including the
working time directive (WTD), to questions over the future of EU nationals working within the UK.

We must
recognise the
worries and
uncertainty for
people who do
not know whether they will be allowed
to continue working in the UK, and
the BVU would urge the government
to safeguard the right to work of EU
vets, nurses and support staff already
employed within the UK.

Brexit has come at a time of
broader debate about the future of the
profession, and many of the concerns
raised relate to issues identified in the
Vet Futures report. At a time when the
profession is becoming increasingly
disconcerted by the exodus of recently
qualified vets, it seems somewhat
unfortunate to gain another potential
threat to working conditions.

Long hours and poor rates of pay
form part of notoriously poor working
conditions amongst vets and nurses.
In particular, in the experience of the
BVU, young, recently qualified vets
and nurses often feel poorly valued,
and can be pressured into accepting
unreasonable working conditions
because they are considered so
replaceable by their employers.

A wake-up call

The Vet Futures report gave the
profession a “wake-up call” – with
40% of surveyed BVA members saying
they would not or were unsure whether
they would choose to be a vet again;
vets more than five years qualified
showing the least hope about the
future, and a concerning number of
vets five to eight years qualified seeking
a change in direction. The results about
stress were similarly harsh.

The profession has become
increasingly good at talking about
stress and, hopefully, following changes
such as the Mind Matters initiative,
we should become increasingly good
about acting on it as well, in ways that
are relevant to the individuals at risk.

Exhausting and uncompromising
working conditions play a significant
role, and Brexit seems to have come at
a time when the veterinary profession
needs to ask itself a few important
questions about what it is and what it
wants for its future.

It is uncertain how much workers’ legal rights
would change
following Brexit,
and there is a
question as to
whether the loss
of the WTD
would have
much of an
impact on vets, when many of us are expected to opt
out anyway. But the general concerns
were summed up in a previous article:
“Brexit ‘good for employers, bad for

This seems a sad conclusion to draw.
Is this really the model we want for
our profession? Are employer and
employee aims really so separable and so opposite? We don’t mean
to downplay the challenges faced
by veterinary practices – but we do
not believe that the best business
model is to grant employees only
the legal minimum when it comes
to employment rights, whatever that
minimum may be.

In recent years there has been
increasing research into employee
health and wellbeing, and how
this relates to productivity. While
conducted in business environments
that are not veterinary, the findings are
conclusive and relevant.

A RAND Europe report concluded
that organisations that see health and
wellbeing as an indicator of success
have lower levels of work impairment.
Interestingly, this research indicated
that poor mental health is becoming
the greatest reason for productivity

Research conducted by the
Department of Business Innovation
and Skills drew similar conclusions:
increases in employee job satisfaction
correlated with increases in all
workplace performance measures.

The evidence-based NICE (National
Institute for Clinical Excellence)
recommendations for workplace health
management practices specify that
employees should work reasonable
hours with regular breaks, and
management should make clear the link
between employee health and wellbeing and productivity. We must also not
forget the body of research into the
health risks associated with working
long hours, night or shift work, and
chronic lack of sleep.

Happiness an advantage

Although there aren’t large studies into
the veterinary workplace, many would
say it is self-evident that practices that
retain happy staff have an advantage – not just considering money spent
on recruitment, but the advantages
of client loyalty and a more constant
team. We all have an excellent level of
anecdotal evidence that when awake we
perform better than when half-asleep.
Vets who are fresh and non-stressed
have better motivation, and practices
with happy staff are much more
pleasant places to work.

Using its Unite means, the BVU
would urge the government to keep
the WTD and safeguard workers’
rights following Brexit. But more than
that, we would encourage veterinary
employers to think of the future
they want for their practice, and their

Let’s leave the “good for employers,
bad for employees” mentality behind –
in reality, every day we work together, and we achieve the best results when
the whole practice thinks and acts like
a team. We pride ourselves on being an
evidence-based profession and we are
supposed to be a compassionate one.

Whatever the legal rights might look
like after Brexit, it is time to be mindful
of the future we want to create, and
to combat the issues that are driving
more and more vets away from the
profession they fought so hard to join.

If we work together to create
a culture that is supportive and
collaborative – where employees are
respected and valued, and have reason
to be loyal to their employers – surely
it is obvious that our profession will be
stronger, and better equipped to meet
the challenges to come.


1. Hafner, M. et al (2015) Health, Wellbeing
and Productivity in the Workplace: A Britain’s
Healthiest Company summary report

2. Bryson, A. et al (2014) Does Worker
Wellbeing Affect Workplace Performance?
Department for Business, Innovation and

3. NICE guidelines [NG13] (2015)
Workplace health: management practices.

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