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How will the large animal workforce diversify after Brexit?

Paraprofessionals may be further utilised as tuberculin testers and certification support officers, delegates heard at the Official Vet Conference 2018

30 October 2018, at 1:23pm

The Official Vet Conference kicked off on 19 September with a diverse programme of lectures covering small animal, large animal and equine practice. With only six months to go and many questions still unanswered, Brexit was a key theme throughout.

The APHA has been urged by government to prepare for “day 1” of a no-deal Brexit. One major concern is how the profession will fulfil the increase in demand for animal product certification that would be expected should the UK become a “third country”, such as Norway and Switzerland.

The current OV workforce would not be able to cope in a no-deal situation. It is therefore imperative that decisions are made with regards to how paraprofessionals can be better utilised in large animal practice. Simon Hall, APHA Director for EU Exit and Trade, provided delegates at the OV Conference with an update on the situation.

Simon Hall updated Official Vet Conference delegates on plans for paraprofessionals
Simon Hall updated Official Vet Conference delegates on plans for paraprofessionals

Paraprofessionals currently perform tasks that are outside the scope of the Veterinary Surgeons Act – and they do it well, Simon said. In large animal practice, they are mostly used for the benefit of the government; many of the exem- ption orders refer to official disease control activity and the same facilities are not available to private practices.

Attention is therefore focused on providing two new paraprofessional roles: certification support officers for animal products and approved tuberculin testers in commercial practices.

To move forward with these propositions, they must be evaluated in relation to EU legislation: though we won’t be in the EU, we intend to carry on exporting to the EU, Simon explained. The legislation includes several important criteria, described below in terms relating to the proposition for introducing certification support officer paraprofessionals.

The paraprofessionals would need to be suitably qualified and competent. This should not be an issue, Simon said, explaining that discussions are underway with Improve International to provide comprehensive training and an accredited qualification for the role.

The officers must be impartial and free from conflict of interests. Certified officers would have to comply with the same standards expected of vets. The APHA is proposing that the expectations of civil servants be translated to the role (including educational requirements, criminal record check, etc) and that they would be subject to regular audit.

EU legislation dictates that “the official certificate shall be signed on the grounds of facts and data relevant for the certification, knowledge of which was ascertained by another person authorised for that purpose by, and acting under the control of, the competent authorities, provided that the certifying officer can verify the accuracy of such facts and data”.

The “competent authority” in this case would be the OV (on behalf of the government). Would it work if the paraprofessional was out of sight of the vet? Defining “acting under the control of the OV” is proving complicated. The relationship would be clear if both the OV and paraprofessional were employed by the same business, Simon said, but how much further could it go? Could a certifying vet in Swindon accept assurances from a certifying support officer at a slaughterhouse in Manchester, who they’ve never met? And importantly, who would be liable should something go wrong?

Questions brought up by OV Conference delegates highlighted several areas of concern. Firstly, could the exporting vet accept certification by a paraprofessional from a different company? Simon reiterated that this is a topic of contention and it would be at the discretion of the OV. Would that result in a few big companies doing all the exporting work? “It is much easier if every link in the chain is under the same management control,” Simon said, but “there will always be information that the certifying OV hasn’t and can’t see with their own eyes”.

It was asked if the movement to hire lay tuberculin testers was cost-driven. Simon answered that it may reduce costs to the government, but it would also ease the workload of large animal vets. This raised more concerns – if vets aren’t TB testing, will there be enough regular skilled surveillance on farms? And in the north of England, where TB testing is minimal, it was noted that the only benefit of lay testers would be in financial form – to the government.

Finally, it was asked whether the concept could be extended to abattoirs, in terms of certification support officers replacing OVs. This, Simon said, is “a massive can of worms”. Paraprofessionals were doing this work before the UK joined the EU, but it would now deviate from EU standards. If dual standards are created, there may be greater need for product traceability, and some may simply not be certifiable, Simon said.

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