DIFFICULT DECISIONS need to be made to make Scotland’s livestock disease surveillance system fit its budget – and this week it was confirmed that the likely casualties will be SRUC Veterinary Services’ post-mortem labs at Perth and Auchincruive, in Ayrshire, plus potential job losses at Aberdeen, Dumfries, Inverness, St Boswells and Thurso.

Announcing its restructuring proposals, the SRUC was at pains to stress that the ‘historic model’ of farm animal disease surveillance was no longer relevant, and insisted that the planned changes would ‘ultimately be to the benefit of the industry’.

However, the head of SRUC Vet Services, George Caldow, conceded that some vet practices would feel that they had lost out from the removal of their regional PM centre, while NFU Scotland said the move would be a ‘disappointment’ to members most impacted by potential closures – and vet’s union Prospect voiced its disquiet at the loss of up to 35 jobs amongst highly-qualified and experienced staff.

The new model, which follows the Kinnaird Review of the Scottish government-funded farm animal disease surveillance services, proposes centralising many services to a new £1.6m Veterinary and Analytical Laboratory based inside the Moredun Research Institute on the Bush Estate, near Edinburgh.

Earlier this year, post-mortem examinations ceased in the Lothians and Inverness, and the post-mortem facilities in Ayr and Perth would close by April 1, 2020, with new local ‘veterinary hubs’ staffed by teams of two diagnostic specialists opening to cover all four locations.

The news model would keep post-mortem facilities in Aberdeen, Dumfries and St Boswells, which were identified as a particular hotspots for, respectively, pigs and beef, dairying, and sheep. The post-mortem service in Thurso, which is managed in partnership with a local vet practice, would continue as well. However, the SRUC said that all these sites would be affected by staffing consultations.

To compensate, alongside the local diagnostic hubs, which would work closely with vet practices, the SRUC trailed the idea of using ‘big data’ to improve passive surveillance, to help farmers and vets react sooner to disease outbreaks, and better predict where disease outbreaks will occur.

Mr Caldow said: “The challenge has been to create a new model of disease surveillance that provides the necessary amount of coverage within a reduced budget. The proposed new model has meant some difficult decisions about the closure of post-mortem facilities. Dairy, beef, sheep and pig surveillance will be supported by at least one post-mortem facility in an area of intensive production.”

NFUS president, Andrew McCornick, added: “This announcement will no doubt be a disappointment to our members as well as the local communities most impacted by potential closures and loss of high quality jobs. Disease surveillance is a critical service for the livestock industry and it is vital that it is not weakened through this rationalisation.”