The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has warned today that there must be no “erosion” of the link between vets and farmers and no loss of veterinary services in rural areas.
The BVA message, along with a similar comment from the National Farmers Union (NFU), follows the release of details from Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), concerning the way bovine TB testing is delivered in England from May 1, 2015, along with other Official Veterinarian (OV) services. Although focused on TB testing, the vet/farmer relationship debate has wider animal health and disease implications, according to both BVA and NFU.
Currently, on-farm bTB testing in England is done by vets working for private businesses who are trained, appointed and paid for by APHA to carry out the work. From May 1 this year, however, APHA will manage bTB testing in England through five newly appointed delivery partners who will be responsible for allocating and monitoring testing in five geographical regions in England.
Following the naming of the new “delivery partners”, BVA president, John Blackwell, commented: “BVA has always argued that changes to the delivery of OV services must not be driven by cost savings alone. We therefore opposed the original decision to move to a system of tendering for OV services because of the potential unintended consequence of undermining the sustainability of the network of veterinary practices in rural areas.
“It is essential that local vets in England continue to play an important role in critical disease testing, such as bovine TB, and other OV services and we will expect the delivery partners to utilise the existing networks of local veterinary practices. We will monitor how the service is being delivered at a local level and feed in any concerns raised by our members to Defra and APHA, particularly in terms of any erosion of the link between vets and farmers and the potential impact of a loss of veterinary services in rural areas.
“APHA must continue to recognise that veterinary surgeons are vital to both individual farms and to the national disease control programmes.”
NFU deputy president, Minette Batters, added: “The long-term relationships farmers build with their vets are hugely important for all aspects of animal health and welfare. These vets have often worked closely with farmers for many years, building up trust, knowledge of the farmer’s business, and a working relationship which allows them to have informed and detailed discussions about how best to keep bTB, and other diseases, out of their herds.
“We are concerned that testing on some smaller farms, or farms which have more complicated tests, will no longer be economically viable for the local vet practice under this new system. It is also important that if there are any problems when the new system is introduced which result in overdue tests farmers are not fined under cross compliance for something that is beyond their control.”