Vets will strive to protect animal and public health and welfare in challenging times ahead, says outgoing BVA President

British Veterinary Association (BVA) President Simon Doherty reflected on a ‘rollercoaster ride of hard work and highlights’ in a year dominated by Brexit as he made his outgoing speech at BVA Members’ Day (173 KB PDF) in Swansea today (19 September).

In his final address, Dr Doherty emphasised BVA’s continued efforts to make sure that members have a strong voice as post-Brexit policy is negotiated and shaped.  The year saw a successful campaign for vets to be reinstated on the Shortage Occupation List, following concerns that Brexit could exacerbate existing recruitment and retention issues in the workforce.

He said: “A huge amount of work has gone into keeping pace with changing timeframes, changing faces in government and changing implications for the veterinary workforce and animal health and welfare.  We made it our mission to keep members and stakeholders informed of the challenges and opportunities presented by Brexit in any form, particularly around trade and export health certification, and this is something that we’ll continue to prioritise however things pan out politically over the coming months.”

Dr Doherty also outlined BVA’s work to explore and tackle some of the underpinning issues which may affect recruitment and retention rates in the veterinary profession.  In the past year, BVA has carried out major research into vets’ levels of motivation, career satisfaction and stress, as well two reports that captured views from members who had experienced or witnessed discrimination from colleagues or clients.

Dr Doherty said: “As a profession, we must be willing to join forces to address and call out unacceptable behaviour and create a culture where everyone feels fairly rewarded and valued for the work they do.  This activity has been a major priority this year, with a key focus on supporting graduates entering the workplace, tackling discrimination and ensuring that vets at all career stages have access to advice and wellbeing support whenever they need it.”

Later in the speech, Dr Doherty highlighted BVA’s ongoing engagement with Government and campaigning on key animal welfare priorities.  He praised the ‘respectful and collaborative approach’ to the campaign for improved welfare at slaughter, which has called for an outright ban on non-stun slaughter as well as making pragmatic asks around clearer labelling of meat by slaughter method and a ban on the export of non-stun meat outside the UK.  BVA fed into a roundtable event convened by then Environment Secretary Michael Gove in May, bringing together interested parties from animal welfare organisations, religious groups and the food industry to discuss next steps on welfare at slaughter, and BVA’s own Welfare at Slaughter Working Group will report on its findings next year.

Dr Doherty also expressed disappointment that animal sentience has yet to be enshrined in legislation following a longstanding campaign and significant professional and public support, saying: 

“Parliamentary time may be tighter than ever before, but here was a golden opportunity to make the UK’s status as a global leader in animal welfare resoundingly clear.  We will keep momentum up in our conversations with Government to ensure that this fundamental principle of animal welfare is embedded in law as soon as possible.”

The outgoing President went on to thank all of BVA’s volunteers for their positive engagement during the Association year, shaping joint position papers and activity on issues including veterinary education and funding, Bovine TB and animal welfare priorities such as feather pecking and housing of rabbits. He said: “To all our divisions, Council and Committee Members, thank you to you all for your time, scrutiny and expert insights; it’s thanks to you that our policy work is so well crafted, well considered and respected.”

The BVA President also thanked BVA Branches in the devolved regions of the UK, saying:

“I want to pay a special tribute to everyone who has played a part this year in spreading the word about BVA’s work at grassroots and engaging frontline vets across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in amplifying the veterinary voice.  Thanks to you, our branches are the go-to resource for parliamentarians and policy-makers.” 

Dr Doherty concluded his Presidential address by looking ahead to the challenges to come, and promising that BVA will continue to be a strong voice for the veterinary profession in the months ahead:

“We are in an unprecedented period of change, challenge and uncertainty.  What is clear, however, is that Team Vet is a small but hugely passionate and valued profession that will equip itself as well as it can to support animal and public health and welfare in the months ahead.”