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Vets play diverse roles in society, we need to be a more inclusive profession – BVA President

Vets play diverse roles in society, we need to be a more inclusive profession – BVA President

Jeremy Hughes | British Veterinary Association

8 min read Member content

Last Autumn, Daniella Dos Santos was appointed President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA). With a diversity focussed agenda for the year ahead, PoliticsHome recently spoke with Daniella to learn more about her plans for her Presidency.


British Veterinary Association (BVA) President Daniella Dos Santos’ first memory of her concern for animals came at a young age.  As the proud owner of a goldfish, she noticed one day that it started swimming upside down in the fish tank.

“I made my mum stay up poking this fish all night to make sure it didn’t die, and when I woke up the next morning it was still alive. At that point, I made myself promise that I never wanted another fish to suffer again.

“That was the start of a very long journey into what is a fabulous profession,” Ms Dos Santos told PoliticsHome recently.

In September 2019, Daniella Dos Santos became President of BVA: “It’s a real honour to be the BVA President,” she said.

“One vet a year gets to represent the profession that I am incredibly proud to be a part of.  It’s been absolutely fantastic,” she continued.

Daniella qualified from the Royal Veterinary College in London in 2012, having previously obtained a degree from Kings College London in Molecular Genetics.

Since qualifying, she has primarily worked in small animal and exotic pet practice. Having first got involved in BVA 18 months after qualifying, she became Chair of the ethics and welfare advisory panel before becoming Junior Vice President in 2018.

Diversity

As BVA Junior Vice President, Daniella launched the #TimeForChange campaign, a new initiative focussed on discrimination and on improving the veterinary workplace for everyone in the veterinary team.

The focus on the welfare of those working in the veterinary profession and the animals they care for are now inherent themes of Daniella’s agenda for the year ahead.

She has chosen #VetDiversity as the theme for her year in the BVA Presidency.

“From a personal perspective, vet diversity is my priority, in terms of diversity of not just the people that enter our profession but also the roles that we play in society.”

“We are currently a 97% white profession, which does not reflect the society we serve,” she explained.

According to official statistics, 24% of vets are privately educated between the ages of 11 and 16, which compares to just 6.5% of the national population.

“We need understand why it is we have a disproportionally higher percentage of privately educated students coming into the profession, why fewer boys are coming in and why it is that we are not attracting those from a BAME background.

“If you are a working-class student living in an inner city or remote rural area where you have no access to scientific role models, then you are less likely to even consider the veterinary profession,” the BVA President continued.

Workplace discrimination

Alongside accessibility, BVA has highlighted some problems that exist within the workplace. Despite women now making up around 60% of the profession, BVA recently commissioned a research study that found that women are still paid less, considered less competent and less likely to be promoted in the sector.

Worryingly, a BVA survey also found that just 56% of the profession were worried about discrimination.

“What the research study highlighted is that this bias against women is more prevalent among people who don’t think women face discrimination in the profession any more – it highlights unconscious bias,” warned Ms Dos Santos.

However, she was keen to demonstrate the significant impact BVA’s work has already had in changing perceptions.

“I am really proud of the fact that two years ago this wasn’t even being spoken about and now it’s a real conversation being had out there.

“People are challenging themselves, asking themselves the question about unconscious bias and how we can become a more inclusive profession,” she added.

Brexit

The importance of addressing diversity in the profession extends through other areas of BVA’s agenda this year.   

“Brexit has highlighted the vast role that vets play. I wanted to empower vets to feel proud in whatever sector they work in and the difference that they make in society," explained Ms Dos Santos.

Alongside her work championing diversity in the sector, Daniella cited BVA’s Brexit initiatives as a proud moment for her, particularly the fact that their campaigning led to the inclusion of vets on the shortage occupation list.

“We are involved in these conversations at the highest level, emphasising the value of vets and making sure post-Brexit trade policies are taking that into account,” she said.

“When you look at trade deals, particularly when it comes to animals and products of animal origin, all of them require veterinary certification for any trade to occur,” she continued.

Future trade deals

Furthermore, Daniella explained how vets will be able to have “valuable input” when it comes to developing policy for future trade deals, and warned about ensuring the UK’s welfare standings are not compromised.

“We are really keen that in any future trade deals the importance of animal health and welfare is upheld, and that we don’t see any lowering of standards by importing goods that are produced in production systems that are not acceptable here.”

Legislative changes

Alongside legislative changes that may result from Brexit, under Daniella’s leadership, BVA has a sharp focus on the domestic policy agenda.

BVA has consistently campaigned on the topic of animal sentience. The Queen’s Speech outlined some reassurances that animal sentience will be enshrined in future law. 

On this topic, Daniella was clear: “we have been hearing these reassurances for a while and we want to see some progress on that and at least some indication of where that is likely to come in.”

BVA have also been closely following the progress of the Agriculture Bill, especially as it outlined a need for public money to be used for public goods.

“We are really glad to be seeing animal health and welfare being seen as a public good. This is an amazing achievement for BVA,” said the BVA President.

“There are various legislative changes we would like to see, looking at sentience, looking at animal welfare standards in future trade deals, looking at illegal puppy imports and how we can tighten up the imports of animals coming in on the pet travel scheme.”

BVA believes that the changes they would like to see, including extending the post-rabies wait time, will mean that animals coming in are older and therefore not suitable for the puppy market, removing the incentives for illegal smugglers.

Underlining BVA’s position on this is the need to protect both canine health and welfare and human health in the UK.

“We would like to see the testing for non-endemic diseases tightened” and this includes the reintroduction of tick treatments and shortening of the treatment window for tapeworms.

Daniella warned; “We are seeing dogs imported from areas with endemic diseases that don’t exist in the UK. We are seeing increasing cases of leishmania and canine babesiosis because dogs are being imported in without any obligatory testing being done.”

Exotic pets

Daniella’s background is as an exotic pet vet and the welfare specifically of these animals is important for her. 

“I see first-hand what happens when animals are not kept in their appropriate conditions.”

“A lot of these creatures have specific environmental and welfare needs that are not always met in captivity,” she added.

BVA will also be reviewing its policies on non-traditional companion animals.

“When it comes to our animal welfare manifesto, that we launched at the point of the General Election, we called for the banning of primates as pets.

“Primates are long lived intelligent and complex animals and it is almost impossible for private owners to meet the requirements that they have under the animal welfare legislation,” she added.

BVA also recently launched their obesity position in conjunction with the British Veterinary Nursing Association and specialist divisions including the British Equine Veterinary Association and British Zoological Veterinary Association.

“Pet obesity is one of the top animal welfare problems that our members tell us about,” said the BVA President. “Two-thirds of small animal vets put obesity and overfeeding in their top three welfare concerns for the pets they see in practice.”

BVA’s campaign stresses on owners to think “toys not treats” as well as taking animals for longer walks, and portion control.  

Daniella emphasised that this was about “empowering vets to have these conversations with owners using non-judgemental language because it has to be a team effort.”

In the Queen’s Speech, the Government outlined a review of the microchipping system for cats. The BVA are calling on the government to also review the microchipping system for dogs. Daniella said that the current system “isn’t fit for purpose”.

Daniella explained that in the UK currently there are 13 recognised microchip databases: “You can have one dog registered on two different databases under two different owners.

Daniella’s passion for the profession is clear from BVA’s legislative agenda for the year.

“It’s about celebrating the hugely diverse roles that we have in society and the importance that the veterinary profession has,” she concluded.

Read the most recent article written by Jeremy Hughes - Brexit can’t lead to a bonfire of regulation

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