ACTION MUST be taken quickly to prevent acute shortages of vets in vital roles post-Brexit – this was the message delivered by British Veterinary Association president John Fishwick at the organisation's annual Scottish Dinner in Holyrood.

Mr Fishwick praised Scotland for ‘leading the pack’ on animal welfare, highlighting several big wins, including the unanimous vote by MSPs to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, and a commitment from Scottish Government to take steps to ban the use of electric shock collars, paving the way for the rest of the UK to give attention to the issue.

However, the underlying message in the President’s address, later echoed in discussions amongst guests across the room, was the desperate need to address the shortage of vets across Scotland, particularly in rural areas and within the large animal trade.

Mr Fishwick highlighted the problems presented by next year’s withdrawal from the European Union: “The challenge of recruiting, retaining and supporting a veterinary workforce in rural areas is one of the key challenges being tackled by the ‘Developing the veterinary landscape in Scotland’ project.

“There are over 2200 vets working in Scotland, and of these 14 per cent are non-UK EU graduates. Many of these are playing a crucial role in supporting Scotland’s agricultural industry as a cornerstone of the economy.”

Referring to recent research by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, he revealed that one in five EU vets are now actively looking for work outside of the UK. The BVA has written to the Home Office to express the urgency of the situation.

Mr Fishwick continued: “The BVA has been urging the Home Office to place vets on the shortage occupation list, to safeguard against a crisis in capacity."

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, responded to the President’s concern over the future of the veterinary workforce: “Recruitment and retainment is a major challenge to the veterinary profession, in part due the uncertainty of Brexit.

“There are profound implications for vets regarding Brexit and the Scottish Government is working hard to protect Scotland’s interests and these vital jobs. Remaining in the single market and the customs union is the best outcome for Scotland and to the veterinary industry.”

Giving the example of her uncle, who died at the age of eight, after contracting bovine TB from drinking milk, she stressed that the public so often take Scotland’s high animal welfare status for granted, forgetting how long it took to get to this level.

“If we look at Bovine TB as an example, we need to realise that to protect the future of animal health in this country we need enough staff to continue this high level of livestock welfare. The livestock industry has a good image and one we need to retain if we are to continue as a world leader in animal health and welfare,” she concluded.

More than 100 guests attended the BVA reception, including key representatives from animal health and welfare organisations, veterinary professionals and politicians, all hosted by John Scott MSP.