BVA President highlights the power of partnership working

Northern Ireland’s animal health and welfare initiatives place a spotlight on the power of partnership, said British Veterinary Association (BVA) President Sean Wensley in his speech at BVA’s annual dinner at Stormont.

Mr Wensley opened his speech, addressing the dinner’s 80 guests, by outlining the wide ranging involvement of the veterinary profession in political and public life. He said: “Human and animal health and wellbeing are inextricably linked … There is a clear need for partnership working when it comes to this area, and we were delighted to welcome the launch of the new Northern Ireland All Party Group on Animal Welfare providing another strong and joined-up voice for animal welfare in the Assembly.”

Chief Veterinary Officer Robert Huey responded on behalf of DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill to Mr Wensley’s speech.

Guests at the dinner, hosted by William Irwin MLA, included parliamentarians, key representatives of animal health and welfare organisations and the agri-food industry, media, and senior members of the veterinary profession.

Praising the collaborative effort of local vets, farmers and ministers in surveillance and biosecurity, Mr Wensley highlighted Northern Ireland’s recently awarded Officially Brucellosis Free status (September 2015) – acknowledging in particular the hard work of former Chief Veterinary Officer Bert Houston and current CVO Robert Huey. Mr Wensley continued: “In our role as guardians against disease in animals we need to be vigilant and continue to work together to keep up the excellent standards of biosecurity achieved so far.”

Mr Wensley acknowledged the continued work of the Omagh laboratory; commended the establishment of the TB Strategic Partnership Group; and referenced the vigilance of DARD, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland (AHWNI) in ensuring systems are fit-for-purpose ahead of the roll out of promised Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) control legislation.

On surveillance, Mr Wensley said: “In Northern Ireland we are fortunate still to have our vital local veterinary practice network – and this must be underpinned by an effective, coordinated system of data capture that will enable us to make the links to control new disease threats, and tackle existing ones.” Yet he also cautioned: “The role of the private vet as a trusted source of evidence-based advice for farmers in endemic disease control must not be lost in the rush to make cost savings, as pressure is placed on government budgets … Being able to join the dots of disease is crucially important in our increasingly globalised world.”

In response to DARD’s consultation BVA called for a review of the regulations on dog breeding establishments. Mr Wensley said: “We looked beyond the issue of implementation and specifically called for a review of the actual regulations on dog breeding establishments, which are inadequate in a number of respects, including socialisation and health screening, amongst other things.”

Emphasising the value of partnership within the wider vet-led team, Mr Wensley highlighted the role of veterinary nurses: “Veterinary nurses are an integral part of the veterinary team … I know there has been focused support for veterinary nurse training by DARD, the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, and within the profession itself.” He asked guests to join BVA in supporting the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) campaign to legally protect the title of veterinary nurse, by adding their names to the 20,000-strong e-petition.

Mr Wensley looked to the future of the profession in outlining the joint BVA/RCVS Vet Futures project, the report of which will be launched during BVA Congress at London Vet Show next week (19-20 November). A number of key themes were identified from UK-wide workshops with veterinary surgeons, nurses and students including veterinary wellbeing. Mr Wensley said: “BVA is keen to ensure we continue to offer the support and representation that we know is needed in the years after graduation and that is why we are reinvigorating and revitalising the Young Vet Network … building on the successes of groups such as the thriving Young Vet Network here.”

Vet Futures also aims to celebrate the wider role of vets and Mr Wensley concluded his speech by saying: “It’s hard to overstate the role of vets in society, but I think it’s easy to understate it.”

Other topics covered in the speech included: One Health; antimicrobial resistance; BVA’s welfare at slaughter campaign; sustainable animal agriculture; BVA’s Animal Welfare Strategy (2016); the NI Private Member’s Motion on the Use of Wild Animals in Circuses; and BVA’s work with the UK and Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Groups (PAAG, IPAAG) on minimum standards for online trading.

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