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Chapter 6 of the pdf file
Unlocking Potential A report on veterinary expertise in food animal productionwhich can be seen in full here Apologies if some of the graphics have not printed quite correctly in this html version)(This is just Chapter 6 of the pdf file
Chapter 6: Unlocking Potential – Models for Change
Renewing relationships with government and farmers
- The changing agenda for veterinary services and the advent of new governance models are leading to changing roles and relationships between private veterinarians and government on the one hand and veterinarians and their clients on the other.
- Through the 20th century, there was a largely hierarchical relationship between government, the veterinary profession and the farmer. Veterinarians derived their authority partly from their professional expertise and partly from their role as agents of the state. The proxy use of private veterinarians enabled state power to be extended deep into the private world of UK farming, in the cause of eradicating first major epidemic diseases of livestock and then major endemic diseases that constrained livestock productivity and threatened public health. This hierarchical system for farm animal disease control was in place prior to the establishment of the post-war framework of interventionist farming policy and was absorbed into that framework.
- The period since the 1980s has seen a steady retreat from that interventionist farming policy, and in 2004 this changing tide swept through animal disease control with the publication of the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy. The strategy laid responsibility firmly on the livestock keeper, and signalled a major shift away from government taking the lead.
- The move away from the hierarchical relationship might suggest that veterinarians would no longer be the linchpin in animal health policy. Arguably, though, these developments call for new leadership beyond government and are dependent upon the effective availability – to business and public agencies – of good professional advice and expertise. They therefore present a considerable challenge and opportunity for the private veterinary profession, none more so than the Responsibility and Cost Sharing agenda.
Responsibility and Cost Sharing
- Government proposals on Responsibility and Cost Sharing are still taking shape but, with Defra expecting a draft Bill in early 2010, the profession is facing fundamental changes in the way it interacts with its main customers, the livestock industries and government. Although the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales and Defra are taking differing approaches, these initiatives build on principles set out in the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and have the potential to transform the management and to some extent the delivery of livestock health services across Great Britain. Through the sharing of responsibilities, government wants to achieve better management of animal disease risks so that the overall risks and costs are reduced and rebalanced between government and industry. Industry will assume a greater responsibility for developing policy and deciding what forms of intervention might be needed. Farmers will have greater ownership of the risks, but will face less of a regulatory burden.
- Our working group heard from Defra about a range of different governance models that could operate when Responsibility and Cost Sharing is introduced. The Defra consultation, issued on 30 March 2009, put forward proposals for a new independent body for animal health which will have responsibility for all animal health policy in England. It is proposed that a strategic board of between eight and ten part-time independent people will govern the body. The board will need to command the confidence of a wide range of stakeholders and the public. Views are invited on whether the body should be a non-ministerial department or a non-departmental public body. Animal welfare policy would be retained within Defra, but the new body would be legally required to have regard for animal welfare concerns in fulfilling its animal health functions. The proposals also include detail on raising a levy via an agricultural livestock registration system. Whichever model is chosen, the veterinary profession needs to see where expert advice fits in, and be able to provide this in a clear and consistent way. It is vital that the profession plays a full part in advising and guiding the new body.
- The devolved administrations have been closely involved in policy discussions on Responsibility and Cost Sharing, together with their key industry stakeholders. They are still reviewing the available options, but wish to ensure continued co-operation and co-ordination across the UK. The Animal Health agency will in any case continue as a separately managed delivery organisation with a capability across Great Britain. Although UK policy on Responsibility and Cost Sharing is still in development, changes to financing arrangements are unavoidable. As part of the review of European animal health policy, the European Commission is set to table proposals in 2010 on a mandatory framework for Responsibility and Cost Sharing.
Veterinarians’ relationship with government
- The relationship between government and the veterinary profession is complex and longstanding, but has come under strain in recent years. There is an atmosphere of mutual recrimination around the UK’s patchy record in animal disease control. Changing governance models have inevitably brought upheaval. Government has considerable interest in the continued existence of a network of ﬂexible veterinary practices that can meet the needs of their customers and deliver broader public good functions. Government also relies on local veterinary practices to deliver certain technical or enforcement functions, which contribute to national disease control programmes. It is important that the relationship between the government and the veterinary profession be renewed, and placed on a sounder footing as a partnership that more clearly recognises respective roles and mutual dependences.
- Some of the tensions are inherent in the relationship between a small-scale, private-based profession and big government (the relationships with the devolved administrations seem noticeably less fraught). In the post-war years these tensions were largely resolved through government acting as patriarch for the profession – setting policy, making regulation, directing and paying for task-based rather than professionally-based services. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was seen as the sponsor of the veterinary profession within government, responsible even for veterinary manpower planning. In many respects, the Chief Veterinary Officer was seen as the leader of the profession, and not just within government. This hierarchical relationship was held in place by a much greater proportion of veterinarians being employed in government and a much greater proportion of veterinarians’ income coming from the public purse than is the case today. That relationship could have continued to evolve as it has developed in the medical field
but proposals to establish a veterinary version of the NHS put forward in the early 1960s did not materialise.56 Instead, the growth in the vet profession since then has been entirely in the private sector which now represents 88 per cent of all veterinary activity in the UK. At the same time the whole centre of gravity of the profession – in private practice, teaching and research – has moved away from farm animal concerns towards the care and treatment of companion animals.
Figure 6.1: – The changing profile of the veterinary profession in the UK
INDUSTRY & COMMERCE
CHARITIES & TRUSTS
Approx. 9,241 records 17,936 records
Source: RCVS survey, Vet Record 1966
6.10 To meet its legal obligations while not expanding its own veterinary establishment, government has accessed necessary veterinary expertise from the private sector. It relies on about 5,100 practising veterinarians in Great Britain to support delivery of a range of statutory requirements such as farm animal disease control and food assurance.57 However, this has not been an entirely happy relationship. On the one hand, government has been challenged in administering and quality assuring services provided by a diverse group of small enterprises. In doing so, it has not always been sensitive to the small business structure of the veterinary profession or conscious of the effects of its own monopoly-client position. On the other hand, some of the veterinary practices that have taken up statutory work may have come to regard long-term government health programmes as a revenue source on which they could depend. The consequence may be dismay when policy changes or strategy switches, as recently occurred on Brucellosis testing. More fundamentally, the task-based and hierarchical nature of the relationship seems not to have fully engaged the problem-solving capacity of private veterinarians as a network of field-based experts, with extensive first-hand knowledge of the state of livestock and in face-to-face contact with farmers.
56 MAF (1963), Report on the Working Party set up to Consider a Nationalised Veterinary Service, National Archives, 287/01. 57 Animal Health data, 2007.
- One legacy of the hierarchical relationship is a lack of a sense of confidence or even competence in government in knowing how to form a mature and constructive relationship with a sector that predominantly comprises self-made professional businessmen and women. Despite new approaches on stakeholder engagement and new structures that separate Animal Health and Welfare policy (Defra) from operational delivery (Animal Health) or diagnostic and research work (Veterinary Laboratories Agency), the relationship with the profession remains uncomfortable. Indeed, it is debatable whether much of the profession even comprehends the new segregations of government with which it occasionally works. On the food assurance side the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is consumer-focused and its responsibilities for regulating fresh meat processing are kept operationally separate from the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS). (I myself struggled with some of these distinctions and still do not understand why Animal Health has nothing to do with farm health planning.) A crucially significant point is that the majority of full-time government veterinarians now sit out in these delivery arms and are themselves increasingly removed from core policy-making.
- Defra should be charged to draw up a code of conduct, in consultation with the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Better Regulation Task Force, as a guide for government bodies on how to deal with veterinary businesses in ways that respect and do not undermine their status as small private firms.
- The old State Veterinary Service had extensive and direct links with the private veterinary profession at various levels, ensuring coordination in operational matters, but these links have become fragmented since the Service disappeared. Liaison between Defra and the BVA is no substitute. It is important that veterinarians in private practice and veterinarians in the delivery agencies do not drift apart. Effective delivery of Responsibility and Cost Sharing in key operational areas is likely to depend on a good working relationship between them, and they have common interests, including common career paths, overlapping skill sets (see Figure 2.6) and shared interests in continuing professional development (CPD). Public veterinarians have a strong interest in private veterinarians fully understanding the technical and legal requirements for animal and public health of the delivery agencies, as private veterinarians are key agents for keeping farmers informed. On my American visit, I was impressed by examples of practical cooperation between veterinarians across the food chain. For example, vet staff of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service were teaching on summer schools for trainee veterinarians specialising in large animal work, out of an interest that future Official Veterinarians would be well prepared to work hand in hand with their agencies. The UK delivery agencies in conjunction with the BVA should review how they cooperate with private veterinarians in training, professional development and knowledge exchange.
- I was also struck by the way in which veterinarians in US in the agricultural, food production and regulatory fields had banded together to form the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition to promote their common interests. As well as raising the public profile and importance of veterinarians in the safe supply of food, the coalition has pressed for improved training and supply of veterinarians in the food system. The US veterinary profession seems intent on renewing the public good arguments for veterinary medicine and actively countering the otherwise seemingly inexorable drift toward a preoccupation with companion animals. In my opinion, the leadership of the UK veterinary profession could learn important lessons from this example. There is an equal urgency in the UK for the veterinary profession’s public good arguments and functions to be renewed. Veterinarians see their expertise as central to animal welfare, biosecurity, disease surveillance and public
health. It is not at all evident that their potential role and contribution to these fields is widely understood or even acknowledged outside the profession. It is time for the profession to be clearer and more assertive in how they can and should deliver these benefits.
- It also seems to me that the veterinary profession could usefully review the way it develops and communicates its messages for government. I was impressed by the leadership shown by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Employing a chief executive of considerable experience and standing gives the organisation great authority and continuity. In the UK, it is essential that the veterinary profession position and equip itself as a key player in the development of the Responsibility and Cost Sharing agenda, and is able to exert the fullest possible inﬂuence. This is important at a national level through organisations like the BVA, but also at a regional level through locally-based initiatives that could well be led by veterinary practices.
- Once a strategic board for Responsibility and Cost Sharing is in operation, the profession should help shape the ongoing agenda and inﬂuence long-term developments. Decision-sharing is already evident through the way that the livestock industry and the veterinary profession have worked in partnership with the government to formulate and implement the control of Foot and Mouth Disease, Bluetongue and Avian Inﬂuenza. Policies that emerge in this way should enjoy greater shared ownership, and be better proven as to their practicality and economic impact. The proposal for the strategic board to oversee the animal health and welfare budget will open up to scrutiny the process of budgetary decision-making and prioritisation.
- Delivery is currently the responsibility of government, but as industry picks up its share of the tab, the cost and quality of the service (whether this is through government agencies, Official Veterinarians or the normal interaction between veterinarian and customer) will come under ever closer scrutiny. All parties can expect to be subject to greater accountability. Priorities and strategies will undoubtedly change. The profession should not underestimate the impact this may have on the way government commissions inspection, certification and other services. Those providing veterinary services must expect to be more subject to such processes as competitive tendering and auditing.
Veterinarians’ relationship with the farming and food sectors
- The relationship between private veterinarians and farmers must also be renewed. Working group discussions have been noticeable for the lack of a clear endorsement of the veterinary profession’s list of concerns about the future of farm animal veterinary services from their primary customer, farmers.
- Farmers see a need for a more differentiated service, with more routine functions delegated to veterinary technicians. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has said that the main concerns expressed by their members are the cost of veterinary services and price transparency. I also get the impression from farmers that veterinarians are too often viewed as ‘regulators’ whose default position is to seek government intervention (see Chapter 3). I am also worried that, in the eyes of some farmers, some veterinary surgeons do not see themselves as service providers, seemingly wary that preventative work like farm health planning may do them out of business.
- Marketing is, therefore, a crucial requirement for veterinary surgeons. Veterinarians need better to understand and anticipate their clients’ needs and then demonstrate and sell skills and services. Farmers’ expectations are rising due to changes in their commercial
environment, and they are becoming more discerning. In response, veterinarians must become more consumer-centric, finding out from their clients their specific needs and regularly checking they are satisfied. Farmers should want to turn to their veterinary surgeon as a recognised source of expertise in caring for animals and adding value to their business. To secure the custom of farmers, veterinary surgeons need to actively demonstrate a differentiated service that is both more specialised and more competitive.
“We could push ourselves more in the preventative line, but I think we have always had this fear of interfering.” Vet, Aberdeenshire, Provision of Rural Veterinary Services Report, George Street Research
Service quality itself can be an effective means of differentiation, helping to ensure satisfaction and loyalty. This will require marketing and communication skills at a level higher than that which some members of the profession currently have, but these skills can be acquired through training and support from others.
- At its most fundamental, Responsibility and Cost Sharing implies putting industry more in control of animal health and welfare policy. To retain its inﬂuence, the veterinary profession will have to nurture its connections with livestock sectors, the food industry and other stakeholders. Its advice and leadership will be provided against a background of increased deregulation and an industry-led focus on controlling costs and maintaining standards. The veterinary profession may therefore have to work harder to inﬂuence its partners and come up with solutions that rely less on regulation and enforcement, and more on a collaborative approach and expert leadership. To do so, it will need to provide clear and considered expert advice and follow-through options for the delivery of veterinary services. That implies a strengthened capacity for coordination of the profession locally, regionally and nationally. It also calls for a strategic marketing outlook at profession/sector level to complement that at the vet practice/farm level. My proposal for a Veterinary Development Council is meant to provide a structure in which the veterinary profession can work together with its key customers/partners on the strategic development of veterinary services.
- The organisation of the various veterinary species interest groups under the BVA umbrella may not always be helpful and their working relationship with some industry sectors appears ill-suited to achieving common health and welfare goals. In their defence, these organisations arose principally as interest groups for veterinarians to improve their clinical practice in a period when individual animal treatment was largely accepted and expected. Their role and function should be reviewed to ensure that they offer a basis for a modern, customer-oriented system of specialisation.
A Veterinary Development Council
“...we never really think of ourselves as businessmen”. Vet, Aberdeenshire, Provision of Rural Veterinary Services Report, George Street Research
6.23 Currently in the UK, professional regulation and professional development are separated within health professions such as medicine and dentistry. Regulation is controlled by a registering authority which determines who is fit to practise. The regulating authorities are distinct from the institutions that promote the development of the profession. The UK veterinary profession, however, is something of an anomaly in not having a separate body responsible for professional development. This may have impeded the long-term strategic progress and development of the profession. For example, veterinary medicine has been very slow and conservative in its approach to the establishing of specialist practitioners distinct from general practitioners. Further, whilst other health professions have actively encouraged and promoted the establishment of para-professionals to perform roles that were previously the exclusive domain of the traditional professional, veterinary medicine also lags behind in this regard. This has important consequences for the veterinary profession’s ability to meet and anticipate consumer and public demand for the services and expertise it can provide.
- To overcome these shortcomings I propose the establishment of a Veterinary Development Council, charged with guiding the long-term development of vet services. This would supersede the present Vets and Vet Services Working Group. It would bring together representatives of the professional bodies for veterinary services, the major customers/ clients for these services and those who provide veterinary training for both professionals and technicians. Inclusion of the demand side (from the private sector as well as public sector clients) is vital. The element I find lacking in the present system is any structure for articulating the demand for veterinary services. This is a crucial ﬂaw that lies behind many of the problems I have come across during my chairmanship. Given the shifts in responsibility to the animal keeper spelt out in the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and to the farming and food sectors prescribed by Responsibility and Cost Sharing, it could become a fatal ﬂaw if not addressed strategically and audaciously.
- The Veterinary Development Council would establish a consensus on the future of demand for veterinary services with the aim of creating a clear framework within which to consider how that demand should be translated into the training and professional development of veterinarians, and the appropriate development of the roles of specialised veterinarians and veterinary technicians. As well as pursuing this national-level agenda, it should also promote a positive animal health and development agenda at local and regional levels, encourage good practice on farms and in food businesses, and promote the importance of veterinary expertise in practice.
Animal health and development
- Achieving significant improvements in animal health and realising the economic benefit calls for coordination across farms. Here is a major opportunity for veterinarians to take the initiative, in collaboration with farmer groups, industry bodies and regional and delivery agencies. Farm health planning may be an important component and I review this below. While farm health planning focuses on improving the animal health status of individual farms, it should also promote coordination as veterinarians draw on their knowledge of disease patterns on similar holdings and in the surrounding area to advise individual farmers on preventative measures. Bigger and more extensive benefits may be achievable through the active coordination of groups of producers. In principle, the focus of such coordination within an area or sector could be improved biosecurity or public health or contingency planning or market developments, which would necessarily engage a range of other different partners.
- Governments and the English Regional Development Agencies have funds (including from the EU) to support the economic improvement of the livestock sector. This is opening up opportunities for regional collaboration between the livestock sector and local veterinarians to promote animal health and welfare as a contribution to regional development. Effective schemes call for strategic planning and innovative thinking and action, and provide much scope for imaginative veterinary leadership.
- Rural development grants, for example, are helping to support ambitious training programmes. I was told by one large specialised practice of a training initiative for farmers with 250 talks planned for the year. All veterinarians within the business are actively encouraged to participate in running the training sessions. The British Cattle Veterinary Association has provided training for its members to deliver the farm health planning services sought by livestock owners. The Lancashire Veterinary Association, working with Liverpool and Bristol University, has trained veterinarians in small group facilitation skills and supported them in using these skills with farmers.
- The Northwest Regional Development Agency is running a livestock initiative funded under the Rural Development Plan for England which aims to improve both the commercial prospects and livestock health of farming businesses in the region. The initiative provides for subsidised business or veterinary advice for farmers in preparing a business development plan focussing on one or more of the following objectives: the commercial development of the business; animal health and welfare; and nutrient management. Farm businesses that have completed the business planning process, incorporating an animal health plan, are eligible for a £10 million small grants scheme to support their plans.
- The Animal Health and Welfare Strategy advocates using private veterinarians and their ‘local networks’ in local disease surveillance. Such local networks of private veterinarians, food producers and staff of government delivery agencies would seem to be relevant not only for surveillance but also for public health and contingency planning. This whole area is likely to gain increasing prominence under the Responsibility and Cost Sharing agenda, where it is possible that, in future, incentives may be available for those businesses that are prepared to take steps to increase biosecurity standards.
- An interesting initiative is the new Welsh Regional Veterinary Centre which is a joint venture between the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) (London), the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Carmarthenshire College (Colegsirgar), the Dairy Development Centre, the University of Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government. The Centre offers training and experience in real farm contexts for undergraduates and graduate vets. It does this by providing services for local farmers that complement those offered by local veterinary practices, including research, education, consultancy and herd health planning advice. This model that effectively combines skill development, investigation and knowledge transfer for animal health and development regionally should be evaluated and promoted more widely. The RVC is keen to see further centres established throughout the UK and is drafting a strategy for the development of regional veterinary centres. I am also aware of parallel efforts in Scotland through collaboration between the Scottish Agricultural College and Glasgow University.
- Coordinated action should not be limited only to animal health matters but should embrace public health and animal welfare concerns too. For example, joint action by farmers, food processors, retailers and regulators is needed to tackle intractable problems such as E.Coli. Only through such coordination by veterinarians of animal health and animal product assurance will it be possible to realise holistic, ‘farm-to-fork’, risk prevention.
Farm health planning
6.33 In other parts of this report I have referred to the need for the veterinary profession to develop new business models that take account of changing demands for veterinary services, as articulated by livestock owning clients. I have been impressed by the willingness of veterinarians to consider departing from traditional service models (which included heavy reliance on the sale of medicines) to embrace new approaches in which the sale of professional advice tailored to individual farm businesses features more prominently.
6.34 Farm health planning is a major vehicle for this professional advice, to promote improved biosecurity and preventative medicine at the farm level. The key components are:
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production costs and business income
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- Defra invested £2.8 million in 2006-08 to pump prime industry-led initiatives aiming ‘to promote and encourage the widespread adoption of farm health planning by all major livestock sectors as a basis for achieving higher standards of animal health and welfare’. The various initiatives are wrapping up and reporting now and, besides demonstrating that farm health planning can work, it appears they have delivered a range of benefits, including tools and templates, increased awareness and skills and networks of enthusiasts and industry champions. It is vital that the lessons learned be extracted and widely disseminated.
- In Scotland, a somewhat different approach has been taken. Under the Land Management Contract Menu Scheme farmers can receive support for implementing an individual Animal Health and Welfare Management programme. This entails the farmer making a five-year commitment to taking a proactive approach to raising livestock health and welfare standards, improving farm business profitability on the basis of individual veterinary advice and forward planning. There are specific supported activities, including compulsory action on disease prevention and control, along with possible voluntary activities on benchmarking, biosecurity, disease testing and forage analysis. Government support of up to £1,500 per farm is available, and a quarter of all those eligible for the scheme signed up in the first year.
- The Welsh Assembly Government has produced an Animal Health Planning framework in conjunction with Farming Connect Development Centres and Farm Assured Welsh Livestock. A number of related initiatives have been introduced. One of these concentrated on measurable improvements in herd health and productivity on selected dairy farms, linked to higher standards of welfare and longevity in animals in these herds. Subsidised advice was given to each herd on management practices, structural changes, and preventive treatments.
- I was struck by the point made by the British Cattle Veterinary Association that while the overall guiding principles may be common to many livestock holdings, nevertheless it is the interaction between farmer and vet at the individual business level that will achieve positive improvements by drawing on the knowledge of the historical disease pattern on the premises and in the area, and relating this to current and proposed husbandry methods and business plans. I am aware that, in some cases, non-veterinary advisers (such as nutritionists) do work closely with owners, and there is a strong case for the role of the vet in ensuring that advice obtained from all sources is brought together in a coherent form.
- Veterinary advice should incorporate state-of-the-art biosecurity and other health promotion measures as standard, and measurable, production practices. The development of standards and transfer of best practice is a task for the specialist professional veterinary associations working in concert with industry sector bodies.
- It seems very clear to me that there is a definite role for veterinarians in providing a farm health planning service to their clients. This is most likely to succeed when it is in the form of tailored advice drawing upon the evidence and records from the livestock farm involved and relating this both to benchmarks for performance in similar enterprises and to tangible increases in the profitability of the client’s farm business.
Veterinarians as agents of knowledge exchange
- In Chapter 4, I referred to veterinary practices as examples of knowledge intensive business services – that is, businesses that rely heavily on the high quality clinical and technical skills of those they employ. This is in fact their key business asset: the way they market and deploy this asset is the foundation of their effective performance; and the way they nurture and renew it is fundamental to their future. Increasingly, it will be important that vets are valued for the expertise they can bring to bear in helping clients overcome pressing problems and plan the development of their business.
- As government withdraws from managing disease risk and hands over the responsibility to business, so vets have to rethink the services they provide to new and existing customers. Veterinary work should be conceptualised as an integrated suite of services for livestock and food producers, including knowledge transfer, evaluation and planning. Knowledge management and getting expert advice to where it is needed will be absolutely critical to the effectiveness of risk management and responsibility sharing strategies. The new external challenges facing farming and food production (climate change, potential shifts in disease patterns, economic and energy concerns, and an emerging policy focus on food supply and risk) place a premium on knowledge that is up-to-date, authoritative, practical, and targeted.
- However, at a time when the onus is increasingly placed on responsible and informed livestock producers and food chain operators, what is deeply disturbing is the striking absence of formal policies, strategies and structures of knowledge transfer. The veterinary profession, research establishments, and government need to work together with the farming and food industries to improve this situation.
- Government is a major funder of science for animal health, spending millions annually on research, monitoring and surveillance activities. However, budgets are declining and tend to concentrate on ‘public good’ controls (e.g. Bluetongue, Foot and Mouth and TB) to inform government policy. Endemic disease research is mainly carried out by universities and industry. While university research funded by the research councils focuses on advancing basic science, industry-sponsored research focuses on applications that can be commercially appropriated, for example in the form of pharmaceuticals or genetic improvements. There is a distinct lacuna in research funding aimed at tackling endemic diseases through changes in husbandry practices and farming systems – the sort of research that would underpin the progressive development of farm health planning and promotion of biosecurity.
- Currently there is a great deal of concern about the impact of much research funded by government and the research councils. This concern has highlighted the inadequacy of existing means of knowledge transfer, particularly the so-called linear model whereby research dissemination, in the form of technical advice or products, is conceived as a distinct and subsequent stage that follows the completion of the research itself. Not only does such an outlook fail to capture the recursive way knowledge is generated through the interaction of research and practice, it has also proved unsatisfactory in recruiting the interests of potential users of research.
- Experience suggests that the engagement of stakeholders with the research itself, including helping to set the objectives and design of the research, leads to much greater interest in and take-up of the results. Government and the research councils need to take a fresh approach to knowledge transfer and research dissemination, incorporating knowledge transfer objectives into the design and conduct of research programmes and projects, dedicating a portion of project funding to knowledge transfer activities and involving stakeholders upfront in the research process. In these regards, in the fields of animal and public health, private veterinarians have crucial roles to play.
- Vets are scientifically-trained professionals and mainly field-based practitioners and they derive and renew their expertise from these dual contexts: science and practice. Beyond their initial training, the profession gives insufficient thought as to how vets update their scientific knowledge and clinical understanding. Professional bodies, such as the BVA, do communicate knowledge to their memberships via their websites, publications (including the Vet Record), and specialist and territorial divisions via local meetings – many of which have a professional development element. However, formal continuing professional development provision and requirements do not fully capture the range of ways that practising vets can and should be seeking to keep their expertise up to scratch.
- There is need to build up a culture where knowledge is transferred rapidly via veterinarians to farmers and food producers. Farmers and animal keepers look to veterinarians to absorb complex ambivalent messages and ‘translate’ them into terms they can understand. Veterinarians will also take into consideration other factors when imparting this information, including bio-security, local geography, regional differences and the ecology of disease, as well as the technical capabilities and commercial objectives of the farm business. They are thus not simply transferors of knowledge from other experts. They combine and repackage information and draw on their own accumulated field knowledge to tailor it to the circumstances of the individual farmer. Above all, an experienced vet knows what advice will work on a farm. It is for these reasons that I refer to vets as agents of knowledge exchange; as creators, not just conduits, of knowledge. As the knowledge professionals in animal health, they should be much more actively involved in the design and execution of programmes of research and knowledge management in animal disease and public health.
Unlocking Potential A report on veterinary expertise in food animal productionwhich can be seen in full here)