Veterinary profession must be added to the shortage occupation list to avoid crisis, says BVA President

Posted On: 
12th October 2017

British Veterinary Association President John Fishwick urges the Government to add veterinary surgeons to the Shortage Occupation List.

Virtually all of our issues right now focus around Brexit, said John Fishwick.

On Monday 9th October, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) held a Parliamentary Briefing, attended by MPs and Peers, to highlight the most pressing issues facing the sector as well as animal health, welfare and public health as a result of the Brexit process.

Opening the session was Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Neil Parish, who highlighted the changing relationship between the EU and veterinary services as the UK leaves the European Union.

“We’ve got to sort a few things out as there is a lot of involvement with veterinary practice through the EU.

“Anything from having enough European vets here when we need them, from having enough people to work in our processing plants, to dealing with the whole meat process.”

Mr Parish also highlighted how the current working relationship between EU member states was of critical importance during moments of crisis.

“From a disease point of view, if you’ve got an outbreak of avian influenza in the poultry industry, the beauty of the EU market is that you can isolate that to a region within a country and you don’t have to shut the whole country down.”

However, Mr Parish was upbeat about the overall process, and felt that the sector was well equipped to get the right deal as the UK leaves the EU.

“We need to get a decent deal as we leave the EU… Some of these things may sound like little technical details and they will take a little bit of sorting out…but we are on that road, and we will sort it out.

“Vets have a scientific background, but they are also very practical people. I think that practical experience will be key as we negotiate our exit from the EU.”

Newly appointed President of the British Veterinary Association John Fishwick was unequivocal about the biggest issue facing the veterinary profession.

“Virtually all of our issues right now focus around Brexit.” 

“We have 57 million pets in the UK, and each year half of the new vets joining the profession are from overseas, with about 45% from EU countries. There is a huge input of EU talent coming into this country.

“Recent research has shown that 44% of EU vets working in the UK are fearful about their future. They are uncertain and they are worried. We know that 1 in 5 EU vets who currently work with us are now looking for work outside of the UK.”

Mr Fishwick also raised serious concerns about the impact of Brexit on the availability of veterinary medicines.

“Currently, medicines are licensed on the European level, and if we are not part of the EU we might fall out of that, we might be the last people in the queue or we may not have access to the best drugs.”

To ensure that the veterinary sector secures the best possible deal for animal health, welfare and public health during the Brexit negotiations, the BVA has set up a Brexit working group to outline the key challenges and opportunities facing the sector. The group benefits from input from a wide range of experts from across the industry, and with representation from every part of the UK.

The working group have developed several key asks across several areas of wide-reaching public policy. The first of these is a commitment from the Government to guarantee the existing rights of all non-UK, EU vets and nurses, who are working, studying and living in the UK.

Alongside this, the BVA is urging the Government to place the veterinary profession on the shortage occupation list through the transitional arrangement to mitigate a sudden reduction in the veterinary workforce. If this does not happen, the inability to retain or hire new staff could have serious consequences for the UK, says Mr Fishwick.

“If we lose even a small proportion of our workforce due to Brexit, it will have a profound ability on our profession to deliver for the nation… Getting the veterinary profession added to the shortage occupation list will help avoid a crisis when we suddenly lose our workforce and we can’t keep up with the demand.”

Ensuring that Britain’s reputation for high quality animal products, which come from animals with excellent standards of welfare, endures after Brexit is also high on BVA’s list of priorities. Mr Fishwick argues, Britain should be striving not only to maintain, but to build on current standards.

“The UK must, at the very least, maintain current standards, and there may even be opportunities to improve these standards because of Brexit.  Currently 80% of welfare law comes from the EU, and it is essential that those standards, and that legislation doesn’t go.”

Mr Fishwick concluded his talk by urging MPs and Peers to reach out to local veterinary practices in their constituencies to ensure that there are good links between parliamentarians and veterinary teams at all levels as the Brexit negotiations continue.