Vet shortage prompts BVA calls for urgent government action

Urgent government action to recruit and retain vets in Wales is being demanded amid a warning that a combination of Brexit, Covid and a surge in pet ownership has pushed the profession to its limit.

In the UK as a whole, the number of vets joining the register of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RVCS) fell from 2,782 in 2019 to 2,061 in 2021.

There has also been a loss of vets from the register’s “UK-practicing” category since 2018.

See also: FW vet survey reveals serious challenges ahead 

Addressing the annual Welsh dinner of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) on Tuesday (5 July), president Justine Shotton called for urgent multi-stakeholder action from the Welsh and UK governments and others, to improve recruitment, retention and rates of return.

She said it had been an “incredibly challenging time” for vets against a backdrop of events such as Covid.

Although the profession’s resilience had “really shone through”, Dr Shotton said there had been a significant and unsustainable cost to the profession’s capacity and wellbeing. 

“If we are going to cope with ongoing and new or unforeseen challenges ahead, we need action now to improve recruitment, retention and rates of return to veterinary work, to ensure that all existing vets can feel supported, safe and rewarded in their careers, and to encourage future vets from all walks of life to follow in our footsteps,” she said.

Dr Shotton called for a range of actions to help create a “flexible, resilient and future-proofed workforce” including ensuring that new vet schools, such as the site at Aberystwyth, are adequately resourced and funded. Animal owners also needed to “respect their vet”.

Bovine TB

On the Welsh government’s bovine TB eradication policy, she said the BVA had welcomed the “general direction of travel”.

“Steps towards more informed biosecurity considerations when purchasing cattle, changes to the testing regime, increased information sharing and improvements to the compensation regime all help to strengthen our lines of defence against this devastating disease,” she said.

“Moving forward, it’s imperative that those at the frontline of these efforts – particularly farmers and private vets – feel empowered to take bold steps forward on TB control, with good trust and lines of communication between themselves and government.”

A Welsh government announcement on the TB eradication policy is expected later this month.