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Vets face double shake-up in profession


AFTER several years of neglect in the face of catastrophic animal health issues in Britain, the veterinary profession looks like getting a double boost in the next year or two.

The first will be the decision, just revealed, that ministers have decided to hive off the State Veterinary Service to become a "next steps" executive agency from next April.

This will be followed just over a year later with the projected creation of Britainís seventh veterinary school at Nottingham University; the first new vet school for more than 50 years. The profession has been caught off balance by the governmentís decision on the future of the SVS, first hinted at last autumn when it announced an overall review of arrangements for delivering veterinary services as part of its animal health and welfare strategy.

At that time it was indicated that any such recommendations would be subject to wider consultation. But according to Peter Jinman, immediate past president of the British Veterinary Association, there was no such consultation.

First indications that such a decision had been taken was when advertisements for a new chief executive, based in Worcester and not London, appeared in a national newspaper and the Veterinary Record, the BVAís journal, in the last few days.

A salary of up to £100,000 is being offered. This is on a par with that offered when the chief veterinary officer post was advertised last year. This post was filled earlier this year by Dr Debby Reynolds, who recently announced a £21.5 million boost for veterinary research and training.

Only last week, the National Farmers Union Scotland warned the Scottish Executive that the numerical decline of the farm animal welfare profession could hamper the delivery of an adequate animal health and welfare strategy.

James Withers, NFUS communications chief, said yesterday he hoped the new arrangements would ensure more resources being directed towards farm animal veterinary science.

But Jinman warned that separation of veterinary policy direction from delivery could lead to communications problems, particularly with the shift of the SVS hierarchy to Worcester.

"The relocation of the SVS head office might imply closer links with operations in the field. But there is a danger that the implied reliance on electronic communications might be a step too far and we do have concerns in this area," he said.

He also expressed some reservations on the Nottingham University proposals, particularly on the cost involved. It hopes to attract funding for 100 students on its veterinary course. This could lead to a further dilution of resources within the profession, he warned.