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Meet the vet campaigning to put Cornwall back on the map

15 July 2019, at 9:00am

Marion McCullagh speaks to Danny Chambers, a veterinary surgeon who was recently named Parliamentary Candidate for the North Cornwall Liberal Democrats

Danny Chambers is a veterinary surgeon based in Cornwall. He graduated from the University of Liverpool with an intercalated MSc in veterinary infectious disease control. Throughout his diverse career, Danny has worked with numerous veterinary charities abroad, including on public health programmes eradicating rabies from street dogs and projects treating working equids. At home, he is an active animal health and welfare campaigner.

Danny Chambers will represent North Cornwall
Danny Chambers will represent North Cornwall

In April 2019, Danny succeeded in becoming Parliamentary Candidate for the Liberal Democrats in North Cornwall. Marion McCullagh finds out more about his step into politics and his views on key issues in the profession today.

Do you think your work as a veterinary practitioner had anything to do with your success in becoming Parliamentary Candidate for the North Cornwall Liberal Democrats?

I grew up on a farm near Launceston and I have worked in equine and mixed practice in Cornwall for over 10 years, so I have developed a good understanding of the needs of the rural community. The diagnostic process relies on communication, observation, assessment of the problem and finding a practical solution. Sorting out homelessness, child poverty and the issue that many of my potential constituents are working but still in poverty needs the same thought pattern. I have the energy and determination to do my best for local people when I reach Westminster, just as I have done in my practice.

I see you have spent time in third world development and in academia

I did an intercalated year studying for my MSc in infectious disease control. In 2016, I worked in Iraq in Erbil, in Kurdistan, as a project manager for an agricultural improvement programme. We were 30 miles from Mosul, which was held by Isis. The Kurdish people are fighting Isis and fighting for their own autonomy, so the situation was extremely complicated. The war and the consequent political turmoil led to loss of production from very fertile land. Now the farming is mostly pastoral, producing sheep and goats, with veterinary services coming back into place, using a mixture of state and private services. When I was there, about 30 percent of lambs and 50 percent of kids were dying in the first week of life and diseases which we regard as notifiable were rampant. I was helping to organise vaccination programmes which were needed urgently. Honey production was another activity. It has a high financial return; a kilo of honey fetches $100 when it is sold to the UAE.

Has your involvement in the Bristol Veterinary School helped towards your political career?

I had a combination of clinical teaching, public relations and business planning in my two years there. This broadened my outlook and, like my development work, gave me experience in organising institutions to make them as efficient as possible. Politics needs these skills; it is necessary to communicate and gain a consensus of opinion to get the energy to carry a project forwards.

There was a report that resistant bacteria, supposedly originating in dairy cows, were found in a sample of sea-water taken from a Cornish surfing beach; how do you see the challenge of increasing resistance to antimicrobials?

According to the World Health Organization, antimicrobial resistance is the biggest threat to global public health. Many politicians do not understand the most basic biology; they do not even know the difference between bacteria and viruses. I believe that we need more science in politics; I feel very strongly that I can use my veterinary knowledge in Westminster. The best politicians communicate complicated concepts in a simple way. This is something that a veterinary surgeon does all the time. The concept of antimicrobial resistance is immensely complicated but the general public needs an awareness of the delicate balance between antimicrobials and the ever-changing genetics of pathogens. Antimicrobials are precious, but the efficacy is not immortal.

How do you see the veterinary profession developing in the face of the climate change emergency? Are we about to witness an end to meat-eating?

I became involved in looking at the various quality labelling processes when I was working with the BVA’s Farm Assurance Working Group. Schemes such as the red tractor and the RSPCA farm assurance scheme give the consumer an indication of quality farming, good produce and good animal welfare. The variations among these schemes were interesting for our group but may not be apparent to the consumer. The BVA is suggesting that we should be eating quality meat but less of it. Surprisingly, it is cheaper to buy the same amount of protein as meat than as economy sausage. The “Buy British” campaign leads the consumer towards sustainable farming, higher welfare standards and fewer air miles. Shoppers may be sympathetic towards animal welfare without understanding farming methods and this labelling gives useful guidance.

How do you see the veterinary profession adapting to the demands of the 21st century?

The urgent concern is to get the work–life balance right. Traditionally, vets worked hard, for long hours, and night and weekend duties were an integral part of the job. Now, both men and women want to work in a way that allows them to spend time with their families. Corporate practices have depersonalised the situation to some extent, there is less of the feeling of owning one’s job. In a small practice you worked until the job was done, regardless of time. When I qualified, I had a grant to get me through university. I expected to move into practice and be able to buy myself a house and in due course, buy into the practice as a partner. Now, the new graduate is burdened with student debt and salaries have not increased in the last 10 years, whereas house prices have risen fivefold. Partly due to the rise in the value of property, practice partners have been selling to the corporates for five times the value of the business. Today’s veterinary surgeon may be feeling that there is no tangible reward for extra effort.

I see that you are a trustee of Vetlife; can you tell me some more about that?

Vetlife grew out of the Veterinary Benevolent Fund, which provided financial and personal support for veterinary surgeons who were in difficulties. Now, Vetlife provides a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year email and telephone support system for veterinary professionals. This service is totally confidential. It involves 80 volunteer helpers who are either vets themselves or closely involved in the profession. There are about 24,000 vets in practice in the United Kingdom and from this, 2,775 calls for help were made in 2018.

Do you think that that is because the stress of working in the profession is increasing or is it that people are more willing to talk about their problems?

I think it is a bit of both. Practice is becoming increasingly sophisticated technologically; the veterinary world is changing very rapidly. There are intense emotional demands on the clinician, so it takes a blend of cool head and warm heart to thrive in practice.

As a Liberal Democrat you would have heard Vince Cable’s vision of a Britain as “A country where everyone can afford somewhere to live, in a safe, clean and friendly neighbour-hood...” Do you regard this as utopian or achievable?

I think it is essential to be an optimist. Aims can feel unreal and idealistic but we all need to believe that a better future is possible. I want to be in politics to play my part in creating a better future for this country and especially for my constituents in North Cornwall.