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BSAVA Big Issues navigate uncharted territory at congress

09 April 2019, at 9:00a.m.

The BSAVA convened an outstanding line-up of speakers to help navigate the unpredictable and unexpected challenges for the profession during the Big Issues stream this year’s BSAVA Congress.

In a series of debates, leaders from government, industry and veterinary professional bodies tackled many political, scientific and economic challenges facing the companion animal veterinary sector.

Lord Trees, crossbench peer and the veterinary profession’s sole representative in Parliament, outlined the scale of the task in rewriting EU rules to protect human and animal health ahead of Brexit. At Westminster alone, MPs and peers have discussed a total of 114 veterinary-related statutory instruments to replace Brussels regulations while the devolved administrations have tackled a similarly heavy workload.

Delegates then heard from two of the UK’s chief veterinary officers, Christianne Glossop from Wales and Sheila Voas from Scotland, along with Chris Laurence, Chair of the Canine and Feline Sector Group. They outlined the intensity of activity across UK administrations relating to the raft of new and changing legislation and initiatives. The BSAVA has been equally active in contributing significant veterinary expertise to positively influence outcomes intended to benefit health and welfare of companion animals.

Peter Borriello, chief executive of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and Dawn Howard, chief executive of the National Office of Animal Health, took delegates through the importance of establishing new European and global trading relationships to mitigate endangering the supply of medicines vital for protecting animals from disease. But as Dr Borriello pointed out, issues such as the shortage earlier this year of the veterinary anaesthetic isoflurane, can occur at any time due to the complexities of the industry supply chain. Both speakers reiterated the importance of having systems in place to anticipate and respond to any threats to the pharmaceutical supply chain. The Brexit preparations have given the VMD and industry an opportunity to establish closer links with producers and users of animal medicines and to create joint contingency plans.

Several speakers noted that the uncertainty over the nature of the UK’s future relationship with Europe has been a particular burden as the guardians of animal health and welfare prepare for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

Until final agreement is reached on leaving (or staying within) the EU, there can be no decision on the arrangements for pet animals travelling to and from Europe. BSAVA president Philippe Lhermette shared the results of the BSAVA’s OV membership survey, highlighting the concerns of vets in companion animal practice. Mauricio Lopez of the Animal and Plant Health Agency outlined the extensive work government has done to address these concerns, working closely with the BSAVA. Michael Stanford of the Veterinary Defence Society followed, focusing on the perils and pitfalls of signing passports and certificates and how vets in practice could minimise the risk of litigation. He emphasised that pet owners must also take responsibility to ensure they understand and adhere to the rules of pet travel.

While Brexit was an undercurrent throughout many sessions, speakers tackled a range of other challenges facing the profession, including the impact of telemedicine on the companion animal veterinary sector. Kate Richards, Chair of RCVS Standards Committee and representatives of the veterinary and human telemedicine industry, Thom Jenkins and Richard Guest, were joined by BVA president Simon Doherty to discuss this contentious issue. They sparked enthusiastic audience participation in debating the impact of digital technology and its potential to support the health and welfare of companion animals. All agreed that telemedicine offers opportunities to improve access to veterinary advice. But there are also dangers if long distance advice causes prescribing treatments for patients to fall outside current definitions of "animals under our care".

All acknowledged that there are many more questions about the role technology plays in the provision of veterinary services. There are no immediate answers on how the integrity of any future system will guarantee standards of patient care. There is little doubt that further discussions will be high on the agenda for the profession over the coming months.