AHVLA announces post mortem centre cuts

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) has announced a new approach to scanning surveillance that it says will better detect new and re-emerging animal diseases and threats in England and Wales. The new system will see the number of post mortem centres reduce from 14 to just six by 2015.

The new system will be introduced from 2014 and will, the agency claims, improve both the geographical and species specific coverage of disease surveillance across England and Wales by making better use of the expertise and resources of private vets, universities and the livestock industry. The changes follow the recommendations of the independent Surveillance Advisory Group to enhance the surveillance system.

The new system will place a greater emphasis on gathering intelligence from other sources of surveillance intelligence, and places less emphasis on post mortems carried out at Government laboratories. For example, large numbers of post mortems are already carried out in the poultry sector and some private vets perform post mortems on-farm. Better coordination of these alternative sources of intelligence will provide a more comprehensive threat picture to be drawn than is presently the case.

“The current surveillance system has a good history of detecting disease threats such as the first cases of Schmallenberg and bluetongue, but we know improvements can be made to give us better coverage across England and Wales,” AHVLA’s director of veterinary vurveillance, Rupert Hine, said. “The new model will improve the effectiveness of surveillance by making better use of the expertise of private vets, universities and the livestock industry as well as retaining the existing AHVLA veterinary network.”

Under the plan, AHVLA surveillance will continue to be carried out from post-mortem investigation centres spread across England and Wales at Bury St Edmunds, Carmarthen, Penrith, Shrewsbury, Starcross, Thirsk and, until 2015, Winchester. Surveillance at the other seven existing AHVLA sites will cease, but access to post-mortem investigation services will be enhanced by the greater involvement of other suppliers of animal pathology.

A carcase collection service will be introduced for a period of three years, while the network of non-AHVLA pathology providers is established. This will collect carcasses from within the areas where AHVLA post-mortem facilities have been closed and are not initially covered by other providers. As now, livestock keepers will be responsible for transporting carcases to a collection point, with AHVLA funding the onward journey to a post-mortem facility. This service will ensure that surveillance information from these areas is not lost in the period while the new system is introduced.

BVA President Robin Hargreaves said It was good practice to review current systems with a view to improving them, but added that any changes to the veterinary scanning surveillance system must not be based on cost alone.

“The cost of disease outbreak far outweighs the cost of providing a robust surveillance system,” he said. “Elements of the announced changes are positive, such as the increased focus on data collection, maintaining expert capacity, and efforts to increase access to facilities across England and Wales, which is something that the SAG report highlighted as an essential requirement.
 
“However, the report acknowledges there are known risks and the announcement raises many questions and challenges that will need to be addressed as we receive more detail on the plans.
 
“Some of the initial challenges we have identified are that the changes must not create a disincentive for farmers to utilise post mortem services; we need to be confident in the quality of the identified facilities for gross post-mortem examinations; we must ensure that veterinary practices see value in investing in the additional training requirements to provide services; and we need to be sure that there isn’t a loss of veterinary expertise at AHVLA.

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