“We need to build a profession that attracts and holds on to our people,” says new BVA President Anna Judson
Dr Anna Judson was appointed as President of the British Veterinary Association in September. With a busy year ahead, she talked to PoliticsHome about the need for veterinary legislative reform
British Veterinary Association (BVA) President Anna Judson can’t remember a time when she wasn’t interested in animals.
“Beth, my family’s first dog taught me a lot,” recalls Dr Judson. “She helped me to understand that there are many parallels between animal behaviour and human behaviour, such as how animals respond to situations, what makes them stressed or fearful and what helps them experience positive feelings.”
Dr Judson’s fascination with animals led her to pursue a distinguished career as a vet. She is a past President of the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) and was elected as President of the BVA in September 2023. “I was astonished, delighted and honoured to be offered the post,” she says.
Dr Judson graduated from the University of Liverpool’s School of Veterinary Science in 1987 and then gained an MSc in Nature Conservation at UCL. She went on to co-run a mixed and small animal practice in rural mid-Wales for nearly 30 years. She has always been interested in wildlife and is a keen advocate of One Health, recognising that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.
“I always wanted to be a vet,” she says. “It’s as much a people job as an animal-related job and understanding human behaviour and human psychology is critical to our effectiveness in the role.”
Dr Judson joined the BVA as a student, appreciating the importance of a representative body that champions, supports and empowers more than 19,500 vets of all ages, stages and disciplines.
The focus on the welfare of those working in the veterinary profession and the animals they care for are key parts of her agenda for her year as President and she has chosen “a profession for everyone” as her theme.
“We need to build a profession that attracts and holds on to our people, one that provides the right care at the right time to our patients and one that contributes positively, rather than impacting on, the planet we share with other animals,” she says. “We must ask ourselves difficult questions about what we could be doing differently to bring about positive change".
“My theme recognises that the profession must reflect the diversity of the society it serves and we’re doing so much work on widening participation at all levels. Inclusivity is vital and it starts with schoolchildren and their perception and understanding of what it means to be a vet.”
She believes passionately that creating good veterinary workplaces is vital for the future of the profession – and that this in turn is good for animal welfare and sustainability.
With that in mind, she is adamant that veterinary legislative reform is crucial. The current Veterinary Surgeons Act dates back to 1966 – “when the veterinary landscape was completely different to how it is today”. As she points out, it doesn’t support the wider vet-led team and has a punitive disciplinary system that focuses on punishment rather than on improvement.
Her specific issues of concern include the fact that individual vets are regulated but the practices or businesses they work for are not, that anyone can call themselves a veterinary nurse and that other professions in the vet-led team, such as equine dentists, hoof trimmers and veterinary technicians (who support vets in health and disease management), are not regulated at all.
“We need practice regulation as well as veterinary regulation,” she says. “The title of veterinary nurse must be protected. Veterinary nurses are highly trained, highly qualified and experienced members of the team and by recognising the title of veterinary nurse we can prevent its misuse by unqualified and unregulated individuals. It’s so important for the people that we serve that they have transparency, that they know they are going to a regulated professional who has been trained to a particular standard.”
Another area that Dr Judson is concerned about is access to veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland. A three-year grace period has been secured, ensuring availability under existing regulations until 2025, but she warns of the potentially disastrous consequences if Northern Ireland loses access to a significant percentage of vet medicines due to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“These include the only salmonella vaccine for chickens,” she says. “It is vital that high standards of animal welfare and public health are protected. Finding a permanent solution to safeguard the supply of medicines must be a top priority.”
Dr Judson was disappointed to see the demise of the Kept Animals Bill (the Government announced in May 2023 that the Bill would be scrapped, with some of its intended measures being taken forward as individual pieces of legislation).
“It was an important piece of legislation that would have prevented suffering for thousands of animals,” she says. “The key things that we wanted to see were an end to puppy smuggling, tighter regulation around livestock worrying, and bans on the importation of dogs with cropped ears and the keeping of primates as pets.
“As part of the original Bill we lobbied for the introduction of mandatory, reliable pre-import testing for dogs coming from countries with endemic diseases, like Brucella canis, which are not endemic in the UK. BVA continues to press for this. We need a system that ensures that people understand the risks of bringing in animals from abroad, the diseases they might be carrying and the implications for their welfare.”
With growing nationwide disquiet about dangerous dogs (from February 1st 2024 it will be a criminal offence to own an XL Bully in England and Wales unless you have a Certificate of Exemption for your dog) BVA is pressing the Government to address the root cause of the rise in dog aggression cases.
“We recognise the need to take action but we feel that the best way to do this would be through reforming the Dangerous Dogs Act,” she says. “We need to look at the longer term and have a much more fundamental rethink of how we approach dog ownership, dog management, responsible breeding and making sure that we have adequate intervention processes in place.”
Dr Judson and the BVA are urging MPs to raise the need for reforms like these with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and his shadow counterpart and to make sure that veterinary legislative reform is included in party manifestos for the next General Election. BVA is also lobbying for reform of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 through individual meetings with MPs, parliamentary events and joint activities with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
“The veterinary profession is looking really hard at the things it can do to improve recruitment and retention and ensure a thriving profession,” says Dr Judson. “BVA has produced a Good Veterinary Workplace framework and we’re working hard to help retain vets in the profession at a time when the veterinary workforce is under significant strain. However, we also need the support of Government to influence areas that are outside our control to change.”
“This is a profession for everyone and we can’t build the teams we need on the foundations of current outdated legislation which is unfit for purpose.”
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.