UK vets cite concerns as they face triple threat of Covid-19, exotic diseases and Brexit

As the UK nears the end of its Brexit transition period, a new report from the British Veterinary Association warns of the combined impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and exotic disease on veterinary capacity.

On January 31 2020, the UK officially left the European Union and entered into a “transition period” which ends at the end of 2020. During the transition period, there was no change to the rules relevant to border movements between the UK and EU, including on trade, travel and business.

However, after the end of the transition period the UK will be considered a third country which will change how animals travel into and out of the UK.

The report, which assesses the UK’s border readiness ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period, also raises serious questions around veterinary capacity and infrastructure just weeks from the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

As the UK and EU continue to negotiate a trade deal, BVA is calling on the government to clarify the number of Official Veterinarians that will be needed to certify export health certificates (EHC) and to identify where in the country they will be needed. Whether a free trade deal is reached or not, EHCs will be required, but the detail has not yet been released creating difficulties for industry and the veterinary profession in preparing.

European Union flag (Photo by from Pexels)

The Association has been raising concerns about veterinary capacity since the EU referendum, as around half of new vets registering in the UK each year are from the EEA (European Economic Area). The Covid-19 pandemic has placed additional pressure on veterinary capacity as fewer vets have come to work in the UK during 2020 and capacity within veterinary teams is being stretched with Covid-safe working practices.

The BVA is calling on the government to clarify how its assessment of the need for 200 FTE (full-time equivalent) Official Veterinarians to deliver export health certificates will be realized across the country and update on plans for urgent recruitment.

The report also cites concerns that veterinary surgeons will be taken away from statutory disease surveillance work (such as tuberculosis testing) in order to deliver essential export certification work in order to keep goods moving safely. BVA is calling on the government to guarantee that statutory disease work will not be impacted with the resulting negative impacts on animal health and welfare.

The report also raises questions about preparations for pet travel and equine movements.

Final decisions on listing the UK for pet travel requirements have still not been made, leaving vets and pet owners confused about what will be required. The worst-case scenario means planning four months ahead of travel.

The Association is calling on the government to secure listed status for pet travel and equine movements to allow vets and animal owners to prepare and reduce the need for unnecessary paperwork and cost.

BVA has recently raised questions of the UK government on how veterinary diagnostic and research samples for CITES-listed (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) species can be moved in a timely fashion between UK and EU diagnostic laboratories. To date, no solution has been reached.

The report calls on the government to work with the EU to secure the necessary exemptions to allow diagnostic and research samples from CITES-listed species to move freely between the UK and EU after the transition.

The Association is also concerned that the threat of some exotic diseases is currently high, for example around avian influenza and African Swine Fever, potentially putting an additional strain on veterinary capacity.

Veterinarian with a calf (image: British Veterinarian Association)

BVA President James Russell said, “The veterinary profession is absolutely critical to the safe trading of animals and animal products whether the UK reaches a deal with the EU or not. With just weeks to go until the end of the transition period we are deeply concerned that we still don’t have clarity on exactly what will be required.”

“We’re calling on the government to urgently send a strong signal to industry that it needs to recruit Official Veterinarians now to secure the necessary workforce,” Russell added. “At a time when we need to be gearing up our capacity, our workforce is at full tilt under the shadow of Covid-19 restrictions and depleted by a reduction in registrations from overseas. This needs to be factored into plans.”

“Our biggest concern is that as we look to 2021, we face the threat of a triple whammy of Covid, Brexit and exotic disease. Vets will always prioritise animal health and welfare and public health, but we need government to give us the information we need to do so,” Russell said.

With less than a month to go before the end of the Brexit transition period, UK pet parents who plan to travel to the EU with their dogs might still be confused as to what is required.

The government has yet to reach a deal with the EU, but pet parents can still prepare by knowing the possible scenarios that could change pet travel. Click here for more information about the possible post-Brexit pet travel scenarios.

Pet travel to Europe from the UK will not be so seamless anymore


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