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Defra seeks views on testing the language skills of EU migrant vets

24 Jul, 15 | by vetrecord

The RCVS is encouraging all members of the veterinary team to respond to a consultation launched by Defra last week, which is seeking views on whether English language testing should be introduced for European Union veterinary graduates who qualified outside the UK.

Outlining its proposals on July 22, Defra explained that, under the European Professional Qualifications Directive (PQD), which aims to facilitate the free movement of professionals within the EU, the RCVS has the right to ensure that any EU vet seeking to work in the UK has the necessary knowledge of English as a condition of registration. However, the Veterinary Surgeons Act, as it currently stands, does not allow the RCVS Registrar to ask for such evidence during the registration process. This, Defra says, means that the RCVS must register any EU vet who holds recognised qualifications and provides the required evidence of good character, even if there are concerns about their ability to practise because of language difficulties.

In contrast, applicants from outside the EU/European Economic Area (EEA) are subject to language checks and have to sit the International English Testing System examination to establish their competence before they are registered. The Veterinary Surgeons Act allows the RCVS Registrar to seek this evidence.

Defra notes that there appears to be disparity in the level of assurance required between European applicants, UK applicants and overseas applicants to the RCVS Register. ‘The proposed controls for EU veterinary surgeons will close the current gap and ensure that all veterinary surgeons who request to work in the UK have the necessary knowledge of English. We believe that the proposals improve equality, rather than being detrimental to one particular group of people,’ it says.

Defra reports that figures provided to it by the RCVS showed that, in the past five years, 118 European vets were referred to the RCVS Preliminary Investigation Committee, 18 of whom had problems communicating in English. Nineteen European vets were referred to the Disciplinary Committee, six of whom had problems communicating in English, with two requiring interpreters. In addition, 15 European vets requested that an interpreter accompany them to their registration.

Defra proposes that the RCVS Registrar should be provided with the explicit right to require that any new applicant to the Register demonstrates competence in the English language. Under the PQD, controls on language may be imposed by a competent authority (in this case the RCVS) only when there is ‘serious and concrete doubt’ about the sufficiency of the professional’s language knowledge in respect of the particular professional activities, and following formal recognition of the applicant’s qualification. Therefore, Defra is proposing that, during their registration process, EU veterinary graduates will be asked to ‘self-certify’. It says: ‘The ability of an applicant to answer the questions asked at this stage will in itself be a demonstration of English language capability. Other evidence of ability will be accepted, such as: having lived in a multilingual household (including English); having studied his/her degree in English; having worked for an English-speaking company.’

If the applicant was unable to satisfactorily demonstrate language competence, the RCVS would then be able to use formal testing. It would write to the applicant confirming that they held a recognised qualification, but explaining that their registration was on hold pending the language test. Defra suggests that applicants could be given the chance to volunteer or work in a veterinary establishment in any capacity other than as a veterinary surgeon as a means of improving their language competence. They would then reapply once they were confident of their language competence. Provisions are also included in the proposals for the RCVS to use language testing if concerns arise during the various stages of the registration process; for example, in the period between application and final registration.

‘For the vast majority of EU migrant vets who apply to work in the UK, we believe that there will be no cause for concern and registration will proceed as normal,’ Defra says. ‘We believe that applying language controls in this manner meets the objective of reducing risk and preventing harm to animal health and welfare and public health while remaining proportionate and not introducing artificial barriers preventing migrant vets from working in the UK.’

Encouraging veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses and other members of the practice team to respond to the consultation, the RCVS said on July 23 that, every year, about half of all new veterinary surgeon registrants came from outside the UK, the majority from other EU or EEA countries..

Gordon Hockey, the RCVS Registrar, said: ‘Under the current legislation the College is not able to bar someone from joining the Register, and therefore practising, on the basis of language ability, even where we may have serious concerns. I would encourage all veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses and other members of the practice team to engage with this consultation and consider whether the College should have the right to impose a language test where it has serious doubts, more in line with medical doctors, and the form such testing would take.’

The College said that the results of the consultation would inform its work with Defra to determine whether to proceed with implementing language testing and, if so, to develop the most appropriate system. It added that it would implement language testing for veterinary nurses in parallel with any changes for veterinary surgeons.


The consultation document is available at Comments have been invited by September 30.

Union expresses concern about plans to close surveillance centre

1 Jul, 15 | by vetrecord

A proposal by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) to close the veterinary disease surveillance centre (DSC) at Inverness shows that ‘lessons have clearly not been learned from previous outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease’, according to the trade union Prospect.

The potential closure of the Inverness DSC was identified as an option by SRUC in June, when it invited views on proposals to make changes to the network of veterinary DSCs in Scotland (VR, June 6, 2015, vol 176, p 583). SRUC said that, if the Inverness DSC was closed, the region would be served by the DSCs at Thurso, Aberdeen and Perth.

In a press release on June 19, Prospect claimed that SRUC had made no provision for relocating the Inverness DSC ‘which means that farmers in the Highlands will have to transport carcases hundreds of miles to the next nearest labs in Perth, Thurso or Aberdeen’. Alan Denney, the union’s national secretary, commented: ‘The reason for examining these animals is to establish the cause of death – specifically whether it is the result of a contagious disease. If dead animals have to be transported over much greater distances this will increase the chances of spreading infection. Because of the extra time and effort involved, it may also mean that some animals will not get tested and we potentially miss an important early warning sign of an outbreak.

‘This has implications for both animal and human health. If we get another major outbreak of foot-and-mouth the livelihoods of countless farmers could be threatened and the costs could amount to hundreds of millions of pounds. Unfortunately these closure plans suggest that past lessons have not been learned.’

Mr Denney added that, potentially, other infections, such as avian influenza and Escherichia coli, could also be spread, with ‘grave implications’ for human health. ‘Set against these threats a projected saving of £150,000 a year from closing Inverness seems meagre at best,’ he said.

Prospect says that some 30 jobs in total are under threat at Inverness and the DSC at Ayr, which, under SRUC’s plans, would also see changes to service delivery.

On June 29, the union reported that it had held talks with David Stewart, the Scottish Labour member of the Scottish Parliament representing the Highlands and Islands. It also said that it was talking to John Finnie, an independent MSP representing the Highlands and Islands, and was seeking a meeting with Fergus Ewing, a business minister in the Scottish Government and the SNP MSP for Inverness.

In a press release on his website on June 29, Mr Stewart said that he had discussed with Prospect the ‘very serious implications’ if the Inverness DSC were to close. ‘This is the only facility of its kind in the Highlands and Islands that can carry out postmortems on large animal carcases,’ he said. ‘The centre’s reputation is second to none in its field. These are the people that are monitoring disease in the animal world to react to any emerging crisis.

‘What we have at the Inverness facility are 15 highly motivated and committed staff most of whom would be made redundant if this issue is left unchallenged.

‘What it appears SRUC are suggesting is that a crofter from Skye should transport a dead cow carcase to Aberdeenshire or Perth for a postmortem. How likely is that to happen? What is likely to happen is that the crofter will bury the carcase on their land and leave it at that.

‘The outcome thereafter is that we lose the first-class disease surveillance work carried out at Inverness and disease surveillance takes a backward step.’

Prospect called for all opponents of the plans to close the Inverness DSC to work together. Speaking on June 29, Mr Denney said: ‘There is a growing outcry at these plans from both farmers – whose livelihoods depend on effective disease surveillance – and the wider public. The work of this lab is unique in the Highlands and Islands and as such it is irreplaceable. ‘But if we are going to stop these plans opponents must set aside any political differences and speak with one voice. The consequences of failure could have grave consequences for farmers, human health and the Scottish economy.’

The union also encouraged opponents to sign a petition, established by Mr Stewart, which can be found at


Informal agreement reached on new EU animal health law

5 Jun, 15 | by vetrecord

Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Latvian presidency of the European Council of Ministers have reached an informal agreement on new measures to prevent and deal with animal diseases in Europe.

The draft Animal Health Law was proposed by the European Commission in May 2013 ( and has since been working its way through the European legislative process. The purpose of the new law is to lay down rules for the prevention and control of animal diseases that are transmissible to other animals or to people. In a press release on June 1 announcing that the informal agreement had been reached, the European Parliament said that the new law would ‘merge and update many scattered items of old legislation, so as to help prevent and halt new outbreaks and keep pace with scientific progress’.

The agreed text of the new legislation still needs to be approved by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, which could possibly happen on June 17. It will then be scrutinised by the European Council and, once the council has delivered its position on the result of the negotiations that have taken place, the draft law will need to be approved by the European Parliament as a whole at a second reading.

‘After 40 years of fighting for animals in Europe, I can finally see the finishing line,’ said Marit Paulsen, the Swedish MEP who steered the legislation through the European Parliament and headed the parliament’s negotiating team.

‘This law will be an important toolbox for the future . . . [It] will establish the first ever link between animal welfare and public health in EU law, and will be an important tool for fighting antimicrobial resistance in humans, animals and the environment.’

The new legislation will put greater emphasis on the prevention of disease problems. It will require farmers and other animal owners and traders to apply the principles of good animal husbandry and adopt a prudent and responsible approach to the use of veterinary medicines. Ms Paulsen added that, in future, this would make it considerably more difficult to use antimicrobials as an ‘umbrella’ to cover poor animal husbandry.

As part of their agreement, the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council issued a joint statement calling on EU member states to collect ‘relevant, comparable and sufficiently detailed data’ on the actual use of antimicrobial medicinal products in animals and to send these data to the European Commission, which should then publish them regularly.


Shaking on it: (from left) Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner responsible for health and food safety, Marit Paulsen, rapporteur for the new legislation, and Juris Štālmeistars, ambassador and deputy permanent representative of Latvia to the EU

Shaking on it: (from left) Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner responsible for health and food safety, Marit Paulsen, rapporteur for the new legislation, and Juris Štālmeistars, ambassador and deputy permanent representative of Latvia to the EU

Emerging diseases

The new law will give the European Commission the powers needed to take urgent measures immediately to tackle emerging diseases that could have a highly significant impact on public health, agricultural production or animal health and welfare. MEPs have included provisions to involve both the European Parliament and European Council in establishing and updating a list of potentially dangerous diseases, including African swine fever, avian influenza and foot-and-mouth disease, in consultation with experts from the European Food Safety Authority.

Another provision is for the involvement of stakeholders, such as farmers’ organisations, veterinary associations and animal welfare bodies, in drafting and updating contingency plans.

According to the European Parliament’s press release, the text agreed states that all disease control measures will have to take animal welfare into account and spare targeted animals, including stray animals, any avoidable pain, distress or suffering.

The agreed rules also explicitly lay out the responsibilities of farmers, traders and animal professionals, including veterinarians and pet owners, to ensure the good health of their animals and to avoid introducing or spreading diseases. ‘For instance,’ says the European Parliament, ‘vets should be legally obliged to raise awareness of the interaction between animal health and welfare and human health and better inform owners about the problem of resistance to treatments, including the antimicrobial resistance.’

Provisions have also been included to require all professional pet keepers and sellers to be registered and to give the European Commission the power to ask EU member states to establish a computer database of dogs and other pets if needs be.

‘This is an extremely good example for legislation on the European level,’ said Ms Paulsen. ‘Citizens who work with animals, whether it is farmers, veterinarians or those working in slaughterhouses, can read this law because it is clear and understandable.’

Work-related stress and its impact on the veterinary profession

8 May, 15 | by vetrecord

What is stress? How does it impact the veterinary profession specifically? And what can be done to help when you or colleagues experience difficulties?

These were issues discussed by Rosie Allister, chair of the Vet Helpline, during a session at the BSAVA congress in Birmingham on April 10.

Ms Allister defined stress as the ‘adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed on them’, and explained that work-related stress was not due to just one factor. Using the ‘demand, control, support model’ for stress, she described how an individual’s perception of stress was made up of the pressure experienced at work, as well as their available options and sense of control, plus the level of support they had access to.

She presented statistics demonstrating that stress and, by extension, the mental health problems it contributed to were not uncommon, despite the persisting stigma surrounding the issues. She explained that 40 per cent of all cases of work-related illness in the UK were due to stress, and that it was estimated that, in the past year, one in four people in the country would have experienced a mental health problem.


Stress in the profession

Ms Allister said that there was currently a disconnect between the public’s perception of the veterinary profession and vets’ day-to-day reality, as clients ‘don’t always appreciate the difficult parts of the job’. Also, paradoxically, although vets were adept at considering the welfare of animals, they tended to think about their own wellbeing as ‘just something that happens to [them]’.

A number of research studies conducted within the past 15 years had shown that the suicide rate among the UK’s veterinary surgeons was three times that of the general population, and it was among the highest of all professional groups surveyed. There were also certain subgroups of vets that had been identified as being more likely to experience difficulties (such as suicidal thoughts), including woman, younger vets and lone workers.


Signs and risk factors of stress in vets

Signs of stress can be physical, behavioural, emotional and/or mental:

  •  Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Lethargy
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Increased smoking or drinking
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in timekeeping
  • Anxious or nervous behaviour
  • Low affect or depression

Risk factors

  • Long working hours
  • Heavy workload
  • Work-life imbalance
  • Difficulty with clients
  • Financial problems
  • Euthanasia/delivering bad news
  • Lack of support
  • Career changes
  • Poor job satisfaction
  • General work-related stress


Combating stress

Ms Allister went on to emphasise that ‘there is a lot you can do to protect and help yourself’. One piece of advice was to shift thoughts away from comparing oneself to others, as such perceptions where rarely objective or true, and the resulting beliefs could be harmful. She also encouraged those present to ‘know yourselves’. For instance, being aware of personal traits such as perfectionism could help put reactions to work demands into perspective. The more insight vets had about themselves, she said, the better placed they were to allow themselves to be individuals and to ‘find the right place’ to work.

Finding the right practice was particularly important for newly qualified vets, as first posts could colour the view of their careers, Ms Allister explained. Adding that ‘the transition into practice is a particularly difficult time’, she suggested that graduates should not settle for any job, but should make sure their first employer was supportive and welcoming. They could do this by asking about opportunities for CPD, consultation lengths and expectations of clinical work. She also advocated developing good time-management skills and being vigilant for signs of compassion fatigue.

She closed the lecture by urging vets also to be aware of warning signs in colleagues. It was important to be empathetic and take their distress seriously, while offering them the time and space to express themselves. Ms Allister added that support could be accessed from a number of sources, including the NHS and university services, as well as from charities such as Vetlife/Vet Helpline (telephone 0303 040 2551), and the Samaritans (telephone 08457 909090).


Thinking differently about pedigree dogs

30 Apr, 15 | by vetrecord

To really make a difference to the health and welfare of pedigree dogs, we need to understand not just how to improve breeding practices, but also why people buy the dogs that they do.

This was the argument put forward by Philippa Robinson, a campaigner for canine health and welfare, in a talk entitled ‘The demand side of the health argument’ at this year’s BSAVA congress in Birmingham.


Eradication of peste des petits ruminants ‘within reach’

24 Apr, 15 | by vetrecord

Eradication of peste des petits ruminants (PPR) is ‘not only within reach, but also in our hands’, according to José Graziano da Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Speaking after 15 countries agreed to collaborate on a global plan to eradicate PPR by 2030, Dr Graziano da Silva said: ‘We have a plan, the tools, the science, and the partners.’

The eradication plan has been drawn up by the FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). If successful, it will make PPR only the second animal disease to be eradicated, after rinderpest in 2011.

The agreement to collaborate on PPR eradication was reached earlier this month at a meeting organised by the FAO, the OIE and the government of Ivory Coast, which was attended by ministerial delegations and more than 300 participants.

The OIE reports that PPR is estimated to cause more than US $2 billion in losses each year, mainly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It says that the eradication plan will cost an estimated US $4 billion to $7 billion over a 15-year period, but that the annual savings generated by eradication of PPR are expected to quickly pay back the investment required.

The FAO and OIE believe that PPR could be eradicated ‘in half the time it took to eradicate rinderpest’, provided that the global strategy is adequately resourced and well coordinated, and is backed by strong political commitment from national authorities. Effective engagement with veterinary services and rural communities is also needed.

Demand for meat and milk from small ruminants in Africa is expected to rise by 137 per cent from 2000 to 2030, and by even more in Asia, but animal disease can hamper efforts to increase production. The FAO and OIE say that eradicating PPR will improve food and nutritional security for billions of consumers and particularly for the 300 million vulnerable households that keep sheep and goats in affected regions.

They hope that the campaign will bring other benefits by boosting national veterinary systems, which, in turn, will enable control of other livestock diseases such as brucellosis and foot-and-mouth disease.


Eradication strategy

The eradication strategy has a four-stage approach. The first stage is an assessment period, expected to last between one and three years, and will require countries to identify the number and location of flocks and where they are most at risk. It will also require legal powers and other support to be given to veterinary services to enable them to intervene where needed.

The second stage will focus on control and risk management, and will last for between two and five years. During this stage, systematic vaccination will be used, focused initially on areas where the incidence of PPR is greatest. The third stage will be geared to final eradication and will also take between two and five years. Vaccination against PPR will be mandatory during this phase and, the OIE and FAO say, should be ‘considered a public rather than a private good’.

Noting that there is already an inexpensive, safe and reliable vaccine for PPR, which complies with OIE standards on quality, the OIE and FAO explain that the eradication campaign will require the immunisation of up to 80 per cent of all small ruminants in participating countries. They suggest that national and regional authorities encourage vaccine makers to increase production capacity and that researchers seek ways to make thermostable versions of the vaccine that can withstand higher ambient temperatures.

The final stage of the eradication programme will require countries to document that they have had no cases of PPR for at least 24 months.


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