Back where we started ... with a State Veterinary Service - Veterinary Practice
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Back where we started … with a State Veterinary Service

The wheel has turned full circle and not surprisingly we find ourselves back almost at the exact point where we started.

After nearly 20 years or so, the Government Veterinary Laboratory Agency and the Government Veterinary Field Service (now Animal Health, previously known as the State Veterinary Service) are due to be reunited.

“What a good idea,” some will say. Many of them probably the self-same persons who said “What a good idea” when the two organisations parted company back in the 1990s.

Call me a bit odd if you like but for the life of me I can’t understand what has changed that has made both these diametrically opposed actions such a “good idea”. It seems obvious to me that one of them must be/have been very wrong indeed. And my money is on the initial separation having been a gross misjudgement.

At that time back in the nineties I considered it to be something of a criminal act to break up an organisation that provided such a complete and high quality service to the livestock producers of the country. A service that was quite literally the envy of the world. And so I do genuinely welcome the recent amalgamation and hope that whoever’s idea it was they have at last seen good sense and are keen to right the errors of the past.

By good sense I mean that I hope the new organisation will once again have veterinary control right at the top of the management structure. We shall, of course, see how much of this is just wishful thinking on my part once the new chief executive and new management board have been appointed.

I think we will then have a good idea as to which direction the new organisation is likely to be headed.

Why do I feel as I do? Well, friends and colleagues of mine who currently

work in Animal Health speak of low morale amongst its employees and especially amongst the vets who feel that their roles have been denigrated to little more than technicians. They tell me that they are no longer allowed to use veterinary judgement but must follow their instructions to the letter.

Reading between the lines of what is reported in the broad street press, the removal of the power to use professional judgement does not appear to be confined to the State Veterinary Service (I make no apology for using that name and offer it up as a suggestion for renaming the new agency!).

Stripped of powers

It appears that in all sectors of the public service, including the police, teachers, social workers and the health service, professionals have been stripped of their powers of judgement and have instead been forced to follow procedures laid down by increasing tiers and armies of managers and administrators (who have somewhat self-indulgently elevated their own positions to highly paid and highly pensioned grades).

And whilst procedures are obviously necessary to ensure some sort of consistency, accountability and auditability, they can also be used in the following much more unproductive ways.

Managers can use them as a tool with which to “beat” those who do the real work (“deliver the service” in modern parlance), whenever they stray from the written guidance. And those who do the work (“deliver the service”), can hide behind them as an excuse for becoming totally risk averse and being unable to make any decision if they can find no guidance in the instructions.

Paralysis and stagnation

The result? Paralysis and stagnation both in terms of the professional development of the individuals concerned and of course the overall level and quality of the service that the organisation is supposed to provide.

The new coalition Government appears to have got to grips with the problem rather rapidly and has already announced that the running of certain hospital trusts is to be put back in the hands of clinical consultants with the current senior managers and administrators presumably getting the sack.

I for one cannot help but feel a little gleeful when I hear this because it means that the balance of power between professionals and bureaucrats might at last be starting to shift back to where I think it should rightly be. Hopefully, the dog will start to wag the tail again rather than the other way round. Monkeys and organ grinders should also start to take note.

So where does that leave the new State Veterinary Service (that name really trips off the tongue now, doesn’t it?) that is to emerge like the Phoenix from the ashes? Hopefully, vets will be allowed to, and be encouraged to, take control so that they are given back some autonomy to make veterinary decisions without fear of censure.

More respect for OVs

It is also to be hoped that those vets at the top will stand up for the profession and question decisions from a veterinary perspective once more.

Hopefully, those of us who work as OVs will be treated with a little more respect rather than being seen as someone whose arm can be twisted in an emergency (remember how we galloped to the rescue during 2001 like the cavalry on all those 60sstyle Westerns?) and for the rest of the time being bullied and blackmailed into undercutting each other for our services.

Hopefully, we can enter into a real partnership with the new State Veterinary Service and build an organisation that will once more become the envy of the world.

What I fear, though, is that a great opportunity will be missed as no one at or near the top of the veterinary tree will want to rock the boat for fear of being the first to fall overboard.

What I do know is that we live in interesting times and that keeping a close watch on things will be an exciting ride. You have been warned.

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