THE FUTURE viability of the UK’s veterinary workforce could be called in to question following newly announced pressures on the profession post-Brexit.

New negotiating priorities outlined by Boris Johnson during Monday’s (February 3) second reading of the Agricultural Bill will heighten the workload facing the UK’s veterinary workforce at the end of the transition period.

All animals and animal products exported from the UK into the EU single market, including into Northern Ireland, will require veterinary certification documents and checks, in both a deal or a no deal scenario.

The British Veterinary Association has warned Westminster that this move could spark a surge in demand on their members’ capacity and will require increased cooperation from stakeholders if the industry is to have a future-proofed veterinary workforce for the years to come.

BVA president Daniella Dos Santos has called on the government to work with the veterinary profession to ensure workforce capacity meets demand and animal health and welfare standards remain high in a post-Brexit UK.

Addressing over 80 guests at the annual BVA dinner in Westminster, including Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Ms Dos Santos welcomed efforts to increase vet school places and widen access to help boost levels of vets studying in the UK, but cautioned that these needed to be matched with increased per capita funding.

“It’s estimated that the cost of equipping students with the skills they need to qualify is £20,000 per student, per year of study,” she confirmed. “The reality is that tuition fees and government funding don’t come close to matching these costs. And this gap will widen still further if funding levels stay static but need to be spread across higher numbers of students,” she stressed.

“If the Government is truly committed to boosting workforce resilience and ensuring that we have the capacity we need in crucial areas after Brexit, I would urge Ministers to look at how to fund our future vets, to give students from all backgrounds the best shot at a successful pathway to graduation.”

Concerns have also been raised about how the future immigration system will protect vets working in abattoirs with 95% of their current workforce hailing from outside of the UK. This is in part down to the lower-paid meat hygiene inspection roles which can deter newly qualified vets when they first enter the workplace.

Ms Dos Santos urged the government for a firm commitment that food produced to lower animal health and welfare standards will not be allowed in feature as part of future trade deal negotiations.

“The media is obsessed with chlorine-washed chicken and it certainly makes a good headline. But we mustn’t allow it to distract from the grim realities about the animal welfare compromises that could be imported to the UK. I hope that tonight we can all agree that our reputation relies on not allowing animal health and welfare to be compromised at any cost,” she urged.