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BVA President: Reform of Veterinary Surgeons Act necessary to support profession in challenging times

British Veterinary Association

5 min read Partner content

Speaking at the British Veterinary Association (BVA) annual Scottish Dinner in the Scottish Parliament yesterday (8 May), BVA President Dr. Anna Judson highlighted how vets in Scotland have shown resilience in the face of ongoing challenges to the profession. She also called for important legislative reforms for animal welfare and for futureproofing the veterinary professions.

Addressing guests including Jim Fairlie MSP, Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity,  BVA Honorary Member Edward Mountain MSP, other Members of the Scottish Parliament, as well as senior representatives from animal health and welfare organisations and colleagues from across the veterinary profession, Dr Judson highlighted issues including the significant threats from avian influenza and the expected spike in Bluetongue virus cases; the impact of the XL Bully ban on vets in practice; and the intense pressure on vet teams following the negative media coverage of the proposed Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into the UK’s vet services market for pets.

Speaking about the CMA review, Dr Judson reiterated BVA’s support for “healthy competition and informed consumer choice”, highlighting the organisation’s new guidance to help vet practices provide greater client choice by improving transparency around fees and practice ownership. She also cautioned about the impact of “inaccurate and unfair media reporting” on vet teams, saying:  

“We’re keen to see healthy competition and informed consumer choice within the veterinary services market and this external scrutiny is a welcome opportunity to reflect and ensure we’re continuing to deliver the best possible service for both patients and clients. However, we are also acutely aware of the impact the CMA review is having on the profession. Inaccurate and unfair media reporting, characterising vets as scammers who are preying on pet owners’ desire to do the very best for their animals, is leading to many vet teams reporting increased levels of abusive behaviour from clients, both in person and online.

“Of course, this portrayal of vets simply isn’t true and as a practising vet of more than 30 years, who knows first-hand the quality of care which vet teams deliver day in, day out, it’s painful to see our profession misrepresented in this way. I’m pleased to be able to stand here and tell you that BVA is tackling this issue head on, both with the media and by ensuring the veterinary profession’s perspective is fully heard and understood by the CMA.”

Dr Judson emphasised the importance of reflecting on what the profession can do “to rebuild the trust between us and our clients” and the steps BVA is taking to support all vets. 

She said: “We have developed guidance for our members and the wider veterinary profession on how practices can be more transparent in relation to vet fees and practice ownership, improving how we explain prescribing and dispensing options for veterinary medicines, and ensuring we explain different treatment options which take into account the full range of clients’ circumstances, known to vets as providing ‘contextualised care’. It’s a positive step that will help move the profession forward.

Despite the challenges posed by the CMA investigation, the BVA President acknowledged that it also presented an opportunity for positive change and expressed the hope that it would act as a catalyst for a much-needed reform of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. Dr Judson called on gathered delegates to help BVA put pressure all political parties to keep this issue on the agenda and ensure this UK-wide legislative change happens, saying:

“We cannot build a modern and effective veterinary profession on the foundations of legislation which was created in a very different era. The current Veterinary Surgeons Act fails to embrace the potential of the wider veterinary team. We do not work in isolation as vets, we are closely supported by others – such as registered veterinary nurses, vet techs, musculoskeletal professionals and equine dental technicians, yet these important roles are not recognised.

“The legislation fails to offer any legal protection for the title of veterinary nurse. Highly skilled and qualified, registered veterinary nurses work closely with veterinary surgeons, yet no formal training or qualifications are actually required for someone to call themselves a ‘veterinary nurse’. This must be rectified. As must the Act’s failure to regulate veterinary practices, meaning that individual vets and veterinary nurses are held accountable for business decisions which can directly impact on animal health and welfare. This is simply not appropriate.”

Dr Judson went on to highlight BVA’s calls for another key legislative change for animal welfare and public health. Speaking about the recent bans against XL Bully-type dogs, she welcomed the opportunity to work closely with Scottish Government as the details of the ban were developed. However, she cautioned that breed-specific legislation has “consistently failed to protect people since its introduction,” saying:

“Alongside our work to support the veterinary profession through these bans, we are continuing to press the UK Governments, in Scotland working alongside MSPs, for a complete overhaul of the dangerous dogs legislation. Breed specific legislation as enshrined in the Dangerous Dogs Act is ineffective and hard to enforce. It must be replaced with breed neutral legislation which deals with aggression in all dogs, and has responsible dog ownership and training at its core. Only then can we properly protect the public.”

The BVA President ended her speech by thanking BVA Scottish Branch colleagues for all their hard work and support, and welcoming Vivienne Mackinnon, who was formally elected as the new Branch Junior Vice President at the AGM on Tuesday afternoon.

Jim Fairlie MSP, Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity, responded to the speech as BVA’s Guest of Honour.

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