Addressing almost 90 guests at the Scottish Parliament, including the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon, MSPs, key representatives from animal health and welfare organisations, and colleagues from across the veterinary profession, the BVA President said:
“Vets have high levels of public trust in our insights and expertise, and strong connections with our colleagues, clients and the communities we serve. And, in these uncertain times, it’s more crucial than ever that the veterinary community pulls together to navigate the difficult landscape ahead and continues to provide the best possible standards of care.”
Mr Doherty highlighted BVA’s significant work keeping members and stakeholders informed about the potential challenges and opportunities Brexit presents for both the veterinary workforce and animal welfare. He recognised that non-UK EU vets make a huge contribution to the Scottish workforce, with one in seven vets practising in Scotland having graduated overseas, and asked guests to continue to support BVA’s campaign for vets to be restored to the Shortage Occupation List.
Moving on to wider workforce issues, Mr Doherty praised a range of projects that are underway to address recruitment and retention challenges in Scotland and ensure that vets have access to guidance and support at all stages of their careers. He gave a special mention to the Scottish Veterinary Delivery Landscape Project for “really getting under the surface of key workforce issues”, and the Highland and Islands Veterinary Services Scheme, for its sterling work to ensure that vital services are available in remote communities. He also touched on crucial projects that are working to improve mental health provision and signposting both for vets and agricultural communities, saying:
“Poor mental health is a huge issue in our profession and in rural communities. Only by working together and by supporting one another can we hope to tackle it.”
Addressing Chief Veterinary Officer Sheila Voas, Mr Doherty acknowledged the case of BSE being confirmed on a farm in Scotland in October 2018, and congratulated government vets for their quick and calm response. He said:
“One positive that we can take from this case is how it showed the strength of our robust surveillance systems, as vets and industry sprung quickly into action to identify the risk and appropriate precautionary measures in place.”
Turning to pet welfare, Mr Doherty praised the Scottish Government’s recent Buy a Puppy Safely campaign and called this “a real case in point for how Scotland has led the way this year in championing responsible ownership and enhancing pet welfare standards.” He called on the Scottish Government to strengthen its current guidance deterring the use of electronic shock collars into an outright ban, saying:
“Giving this legislation more teeth would be a huge win for welfare and send a clear signal that these cruel and inhumane devices have no place in modern pet care and can do far more harm than good.”
The BVA President ended his speech by thanking BVA Scottish branch for its hard work in the past year engaging members in policy and giving them a strong voice on key issues. He gave a special thank you to the branch’s outgoing President, Melissa Donald, saying:
“She has brought boundless energy to her presidency and settled in seamlessly to the varied demands of the role.”
Mairi Gougeon, Scotland’s Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, responded to the speech as BVA’s Guest of Honour.