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By British Veterinary Association

Addressing the veterinary workforce shortage

British Veterinary Association

5 min read Partner content

The British Veterinary Association urges the UK government to lower the recently increased salary threshold for overseas vets, in the face of workforce shortages

As the veterinary profession continues to tackle workforce shortages, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is calling on the UK Government to lower the recently increased salary threshold for overseas vets joining the UK register to £38,700, the standard rate.

BVA and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) have written a joint letter to Environment Secretary, Steve Barclay MP, asking him to reconsider the changes to the immigration rules.

Under the new rules, the minimum salary for prospective overseas employees to be allowed into the UK was raised from £26,200 per year to £38,700. However, the required rate for vets over 26 years old is set at £48,100 a year.

The number of qualified vets joining the profession decreased sharply after the UK left the EU. Registrations by graduates from EU vet schools dropped from 1,195 in 2018 to 365 in 2021 – largely due to the post-Brexit requirements of applying for visas, sponsorship from employers and passing an English proficiency test. Numbers rose slightly in 2023, to 536.

The letter from BVA President Dr Anna Judson and RCVS President Dr Sue Paterson pointed out that the introduction of the new visa rules requiring prospective overseas vets to meet a salary threshold of £48,100 a year was “unsustainable” for the profession, which faces a workforce shortage as well as retention and recruitment challenges.

“While we understand the need for updates to immigration regulations, this abrupt adjustment will impede the recruitment of veterinary surgeons who have graduated overseas and play a key role in supporting UK veterinary capacity,” said the letter.

“This change will have far-reaching implications across the UK veterinary profession, particularly impacting areas such as public health, veterinary education and remote and rural livestock practice.”

A thriving workforce is vital to safeguard animal health and welfare and retention is an ongoing concern, with the average vet now leaving the profession after just seven years. The BVA’s recent Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey highlighted the reasons for this as including a lack of flexible working, poor work/life balance, cultural issues and lack of support in a high-stress environment.

At the same time, vets’ workloads have increased. Contributing factors range from an increase in work to facilitate the export trade of meat and animals since the UK left the EU and a rise in pet ownership during the Covid-19 pandemic.

BVA, which represents more than 19,000 vets across the country, is also lobbying with RCVS for reform of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. The proposed new Veterinary Services Bill would modernise this outdated piece of legislation and support the modern veterinary profession. It would recognise the importance of the wider veterinary team, by enabling allied professionals, such as farm veterinary technicians and musculoskeletal professionals, to be brought into the regulatory framework of the RCVS, as well as protecting the title ‘veterinary nurse’, which can currently be used by anyone. Such changes would improve animal health and welfare standards and enable vets to focus on more specialist work.

To further improve the workforce shortage, RCVS has also proposed secondary legislation to allow the statutory membership exam to be modernised, which would make recruitment of overseas vets easier. While the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) has proposed an exemption order to allow veterinary technicians to carry out a greater role in supporting farm vets.

Workforce issues were among the topics raised at a special Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee meeting in March. The cross-party committee, which heard evidence from veterinary leaders, looked at whether the UK has a sufficient pipeline of newly qualified vets, how successful the sector is at retaining professionals and the factors driving UK vets to leave the profession or work overseas. 

“We are very concerned about the issues affecting retention in the workforce and also the impact on recruitment of the 4 April reforms to the skilled worker visa,” said Sir Robert Goodwill MP, chair of the EFRA Committee.

“It is essential that the UK has enough veterinary surgeons and allied professionals to meet the broad and growing demands of animal health and welfare, food security and public health.

“The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 is very outdated and we want to see new legislation fit for the realities of today.”

Meanwhile committee member Dr Neil Hudson MP, the only veterinary surgeon in the House of Commons, said: "People might consider veterinary staffing a niche interest but it hugely impacts everything from animal welfare and the food we eat to the nation's biosecurity and human public health if not properly addressed.”

“The session gave us much to think about when it comes to training new vets as well as supporting retention through improved mental resilience and updated legislation. An important way of addressing these issues is by updating the Veterinary Surgeons Act, which was first passed in 1966. In the ensuing 57 years we have made huge strides forward within the profession which must be reflected in up-to-date legislation which will really support ‘Team Vet’ moving forward.”

Malcolm Morley, the BVA’s Senior Vice President, who gave evidence to the EFRA committee, spoke about the importance of widening participation in the veterinary profession.

“By bringing vets in from overseas we bring diversity and different ways of thinking and I think that is of huge benefit to our profession,” he told the committee.

“We need some of the brightest, most academic people there are. We also need people who are happy to work in remote and rural practices, be part of that rural community and want to be out calving at two in the morning.”

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