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Welsh livestock antibiotic project leads the way for UK vets

The Arwain Vet Cymru project trains and supports a national network of Veterinary Prescribing Champions across Wales to improve antibiotic prescribing in cattle and sheep

12 May 2021, at 10:00am

A Wales-wide project to promote responsible use of antibiotics in livestock has become the blueprint for schemes across the UK and globally.

The Arwain Vet Cymru project trains and supports a national network of Veterinary Prescribing Champions (VPCs) across Wales to improve antibiotic prescribing in cattle and sheep.

The successful roll-out of Arwain Vet Cymru’s VPC initiative has seen the establishment of a network of trained VPCs at veterinary surgeries across Wales, and this success has directly led to the launch of a similar, UK-wide initiative called “Farm Vet Champions”.

The first project of its kind in the UK, Arwain Vet Cymru launched in November 2019 to coincide with World Antimicrobial Awareness Week and European Antibiotic Awareness Day.

Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, a significant amount of work has been achieved by the team behind the roll-out of Arwain Vet Cymru - Bristol Vet School, independent veterinary practice consortium for South Wales Iechyd Da, North Wales veterinary practice consortium Milfeddygion Gogledd Cymru (MGC), Welsh Lamb and Beef Producers and Aberystwyth University.

Robert Smith of Iechyd Da said, “The idea for Arwain Vet Cymru originated from a working group of Iechyd Da member practices which was set up in 2017 to promote the responsible use of antibiotics in South Wales.

“We are delighted that to date we have 41 VPCs. Thirty-nine Welsh veterinary practices who undertake farm work have enrolled in the project - which is a big proportion of practices - and 37 of them have already created bespoke antibiotic stewardship action plans that they are implementing in their practices.

“Our original pre-COVID plans centred on a programme of in-person and bi-lingual training days for participants and their practices. However, we adapted our delivery approach, creating a series of webinars and workshops on topics such as communication skills and human behaviour change, prescribing regulations, species-specific antibiotic benchmarking and looking at case studies of successful strategies for reducing antibiotic use.

“Veterinary surgeons play a crucial role as gatekeepers of antibiotic use in the livestock industry, and as vets, Arwain Vet Cymru is really helping us raise our game in Wales.”

One VPC, Jane Anscombe of Monmouthshire veterinary practice Farm First Vets in Abergavenny has first-hand experience of the benefits of the training provided by Arwain Vet Cymru.

Ms Anscombe said, “Not only have the online training sessions been full of information and guidance, but they have also provided the opportunity to speak to other vets in a similar situation and learn from their experiences.

“This has given me the impetus to put measures in place here at my practice, and the fact that neighbouring practices are implementing their own action plans helps to present a consistent message to farmers and highlight the issue of reducing antibiotics on farm.

“The message is getting out to farmers, and they are accepting that we must cut down on unnecessary antibiotic use - for both animal and human health.”

Arwain Vet Cymru is supported by the Welsh Government and the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer, led by Professor Christianne Glossop, and funded by the Rural Development Programme (2014 - 2020). The two-year project fits within the Welsh Government’s wider five-year Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in Animals and the Environment Implementation Plan (2019 - 2024).

The application for the project was jointly led by farmer controlled co-operative Welsh Lamb and Beef Producers Ltd (WLBP), Iechyd Da and the University of Bristol.

The project is led by Dr Gwen Rees, Lecturer in Veterinary Science at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University and formerly of Bristol Vet School. Also working on the project at Bristol Vet School are Dr Kristen Reyher, Reader in Veterinary Epidemiology and Dr Alison Bard, Post-doctoral Research Associate.

Dr Rees said, “Arwain Vet Cymru has been a ground-breaking project and I’m honoured to have been able to lead on the development of Wales’ VPC Network.

“While the impact of Arwain Vet Cymru on prescribing has yet to be measured, I am confident that the health of animals and humans in Wales is better off for all of the hard work these vets have invested in this project.

“They’re a passionate, engaged and ambitious group who are committed to improving the use of veterinary medicines across Wales and I’m really proud to have been able to work with them on this.”

Paper about the Arwain Vet Cymru Project: “Designing a national veterinary prescribing champion programme for Welsh veterinary practices: The Arwain Vet Cymru Project” by Gwen M. Rees, Alison Baird and Kristen R. Reyher in Antibiotics [open access].