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“The profession needs to stop losing vets from its ranks of two-years-plus qualified vets”

29 July 2018, at 9:40pm

Writing this month’s column, I am not my usual upbeat veterinary self. A succession of client issues and generally being over-stretched at work has, for the first time I can remember, made me start to wonder why on earth I put myself through it. The answer for me (like a lot of vets mid-career I imagine) probably boils down to, if nothing else, to pay the mortgage and fund the kids. However, for younger vets still able to cut and run to a less demanding (and at that stage better paid) working life, I can understand their motives. 

Losing vets for this reason is one factor in the current recruitment crisis. I contacted both the RCVS and the BVA for comment on the problem and was pleased to hear that it is being worked on by both organisations. 

The RCVS responded: 

“Hard figures on the recruitment crisis are hard to come by … the 11 percent figure is an estimate given to us by the Major Employers Group. 

“Alongside BVA, we are in close dialogue with Defra through the Veterinary Capacity and Capability Project (VCCP) ... [and] have subsequently had meetings with the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) who oversee the shortage occupation list; we have also met directly with Home Office representatives to discuss the matter. 

“We continue to press the case ... [and are] exploring how domestic graduate numbers can be boosted ... it is, as yet, far from clear what post-Brexit immigration policy will look like, or what the role of the shortage occupation list or its future equivalent will be. 

“However, the government has indicated that overall immigration numbers should be reduced to below 100,000, and this may have an impact on the future migration of veterinarians to the UK. Ensuring that the government is aware of the existing shortage of vets and the current reliance on overseas graduates remains a priority in the hope of mitigating this as much as possible.” 

The BVA responded similarly: 

“Yes, we are lobbying for vets to be added to the SOL as a means to ease the shortfall ... to safeguard animal health and welfare and public health. The List allows the profession to recruit internationally beyond Europe by prioritising work visas for veterinary roles and anticipates shortages in particular areas, such as veterinary education, where the crucial skills of overseas staff are in danger of being lost. 

“We’re not aware of any hard figures around the numbers of vets leaving the profession apart from those held by the RCVS in terms of numbers coming off the register. There isn’t really a straightforward answer to ‘Where are all the vets?’ and there are probably many contributing factors. 

RCVS research suggests that one in five non-UK EU vets are actively looking for work in other countries, while 44 percent say they are ‘fearful for their future’. In a recent survey with BVA members (autumn 2016), nearly one fifth (18 percent) of our members reported that since the referendum, recruitment has become harder. 

“There was a recent article discussing pay in Vet Record which suggests that pay is stagnating … but there are some upward trends, for example in those that work part-time.” 

It is good to hear that the RCVS is working on our behalf and with the BVA. Vets often see the RCVS as just a regulator when it clearly does much more. 

Recruiting from overseas is not the only thing we need to address. There is nothing to stop us doing that anyway, providing the employer can satisfy visa criteria. The profession needs to stop losing vets from its ranks of two-years-plus qualified vets. 

Ten years ago, a big veterinary concern was budget clinics and the race to the bottom for prices. This has driven down salaries in general practice. The explosion in referral practices and out-of-hours practices over a similar timeframe has led to an increased expectation in quality of medicine and surgery in small animal practice 24 hours a day. 

These separate changes have led to clients expecting supervet standards at vaccination clinic prices, at all hours. For those of us clinging on to life at the veterinary coalface in general practice, this has led to us being expected to provide an almost impossible level of service at a low price (leading to low salaries). This is why vets leave. 

I will end this cheery piece with an email just received from a vet and practice owner in Australia, a traditional source of vets for the UK: 

“It’s not Brexit. We are in New South Wales and are two vets down. The recruitment is critical here. The employment agencies have nobody at all for us. I have employed vets in the UK and Australia for 25 years and never seen anything like this. 

“We suspect they’re going to corporates, not liking it and leaving the profession, but we can’t even find any to ask them what they want! 

“Yours in depressed desperation, Mary.”

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