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Looking to the BVU's role and future

by
01 February 2016, at 12:00am

Periscope continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

SO it has happened. The junior doctors have been on strike, the country’s healthcare system did not crash but a significant number of patients were affected to a greater or lesser extent by the action.

It is possible to find responsible and reasonable persons on both sides of the argument who will condemn or support the action with equal and genuinely expressed passion.

For the reasons I stated in this column some months back I have genuine sympathy with the junior doctors. And while black and white facts appear difficult to pin down, the limit on the number of hours they might be expected to work in a week (whichever headline figure is correct) still seems excessive considering the responsibilities the job entails.

It would not be permitted in the airline industry, road haulage, or any other well-regulated industry where safety may be compromised. Doctors (contrary to the belief of some of them) are not gods and require rest, recuperation and undisturbed sleep (just like the rest of us) if they are to function effectively. The BMA has been criticised by those persons opposed to the strike for its “militant” attitude in calling for strike action. Militant doesn’t seem like quite the right word to me for an organisation that last called on its members to strike over 40 years ago.

It seems that this current crisis results not from militancy but is more a case of a last resort born of frustration at continually banging one’s head against a brick wall only to find that the wall will not budge. Not an inch.

Of course talk is better than withdrawal of labour but sometimes a catalyst is needed to move that talk out of the continuous loop it has become stuck on.

Talk of the BVA’s militancy set me back to thinking about the debate of a few years ago concerning the forming of the BVU under the auspices of the union Unite.

There was much concern then, most prominently from employers and the higher end members of the profession, that this development was a serious threat to the status quo and threatened the end of the “veterinary world” as we know it (and a good job too some might say).

As it’s turned out the BVU will have been in existence for ve years this July and everything has pretty much continued as normal. Maybe I have missed something, but I don’t recall having read about strike action by vets being called for.

Indeed I can hardly recall the BVU ever being mentioned in relation to anything, by any of the popular veterinary magazines or periodicals. Does that mean it does nothing? 

That the need for its existence was overstated? Or simply that it is irrelevant to the modern veterinary environment?

I have looked at the BVU’s website and I have to confess to not being very much wiser. Sure there are some “official” BVU responses posted on various consultations, but there is nothing easily visible that gives a summary of what the BVU has done in terms of helping its members on an annual basis.

The one interesting thing I did note on the website was the BVU’s comment that the collaboration between the RCVS and the BVA on the Vet Futures project might compromise the BVA’s independent voice since it is now working so closely with the profession’s regulator.

That seems an eminently fair point to make. The profession needs a strong body to represent its members, particularly if the regulator starts to behave in a somewhat dictatorial manner, and it must now be less likely that the BVA can fulfil this role when the two bodies are now essentially wedded.

This could mean the BVU has a bigger role to play as the only truly independent veterinary organisation with a representative membership. Which begs the question: is it up to the job? Again, looking at its website, I have no idea.

I had a lot of sympathy for the idea behind the setting up of the BVU because I felt that for many years the working hours and conditions for much of the profession, particularly the younger members, were outdated and unreasonable. Slowly, slowly, I think this is starting to change but apart from some notable exceptions, I suspect there is still a long way to go.

And now that the BVU has been around for nearly five years I would like to see what it has achieved so far and how it intends to progress in the next few years. Not by launching its own equivalent of Vet Futures’ Taking Charge of our Future document (heaven forbid), but by setting out some clear practical aims for the next ve years in terms of membership and how it can improve its communications to members and non-members (in order to increase membership) alike. 

A good place to start would be to produce a summary document of the last five years showing the current membership both in terms of numbers and type (i.e. vet, vet nurse, etc.) and how this has changed over that five-year period.

The document should also give some figures on the number of queries it’s handled over that time and again of which type, e.g. working hours; maternity rights; contract breaches; etc., along with the outcomes for any cases that have been investigated or supported by the BVU. This would then enable us to judge its worth or otherwise on the basis of facts, rather than conjecture or supposition.

We live in an age that is increasingly perilous for professionals in terms of litigation for negligence and in the veterinary profession the stress associated with the work we do seems to be ever-increasing.

We need all the help we can get to cope, in good times, and especially in bad times which can appear out of the blue without warning. Five years in seems like a good time frame for the BVU to showcase what it has to offer and perhaps increase its membership as a result.