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UK vets grow wary as Brexit transition looms

30 November 2020

A new report from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) says that the UK veterinary profession is facing a triple threat from COVID-19, Brexit and exotic disease.

The report assesses the readiness of the UK and raises serious questions around veterinary capacity and infrastructure just weeks from the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

As the UK and EU continue to negotiate a trade deal, BVA is calling on the government to clarify the number of Official Veterinarians that will be needed to certify export health certificates (EHC) and to identify where in the country they will be needed. Whether a free trade deal is reached or not, EHCs will be required, but the detail has not yet been released creating difficulties for industry and the veterinary profession in preparing.

 

BVA has been raising concerns about veterinary capacity since the EU referendum, as around half of new vets registering in the UK each year are from the EEA. COVID-19 has placed additional pressure on veterinary capacity as fewer vets have come to work in the UK during 2020 and capacity within veterinary teams is being stretched with COVID-safe working practices.

The report cites concerns that veterinary surgeons will be taken away from statutory disease surveillance work (such as TB testing) in order to deliver essential export certification work in order to keep goods moving safely. BVA is calling on the government to guarantee that statutory disease work will not be impacted with the resulting negative impacts on animal health and welfare.

The report also raises questions about preparations for pet travel and equine movements. Final decisions on listing the UK for pet travel requirements have still not been made, leaving vets and pet owners confused about what will be required. The worst-case scenario means planning four months ahead of travel.

BVA has recently raised questions of the UK government on how veterinary diagnostic and research samples for CITES-listed species can be moved in a timely fashion between UK and EU diagnostic laboratories. To date, no solution has been reached.

BVA is also concerned that the threat of some exotic diseases is currently high – for example around avian influenza and African Swine Fever – potentially putting an additional strain on veterinary capacity.

Commenting, BVA President James Russell said:

“The veterinary profession is absolutely critical to the safe trading of animals and animal products whether the UK reaches a deal with the EU or not. With just weeks to go until the end of the transition period we are deeply concerned that we still don’t have clarity on exactly what will be required.

“We’re calling on the government to urgently send a strong signal to industry that it needs to recruit Official Veterinarians now to secure the necessary workforce.

“At a time when we need to be gearing up our capacity, our workforce is at full tilt under the shadow of COVID-19 restrictions and depleted by a reduction in registrations from overseas. This needs to be factored into plans.

“Our biggest concern is that as we look to 2021, we face the threat of a triple whammy of COVID-19, Brexit and exotic disease. Vets will always prioritise animal health and welfare and public health, but we need government to give us the information we need to do so.”



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