Getting to grips with the issues - Veterinary Practice
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Getting to grips with the issues

“THE BVA is relevant to the entire profession,” declared Nicky Paull, the current president, during Dunlop’s Question Time at last month’s SPVS congress.

Mrs Paull was responding to a question from Des Thompson about whether the profession was up to standard in its communications with its members, the press and the parliamentary lobby.

“A lot of what we do is for the profession, not just for our members,” she said. “BVA members are paying for political lobbying for the entire profession.”

Earlier, the president commented that the day any business thought it was doing enough in communications was the day it would start to decline.

“There is a huge amount going on,” she continued. “Can we do more? Yes we can. We have to do more but it requires more money so we must do it in a leaner way.”

One aim was to get better communications with the specialist divisions but, she added, “Sometimes we send out consultations to members and we get no response.”

Mrs Paull was one of four presidents and a senior vice-president on the panel and as the chairman of the session, JohnTandy, pointed out, all were alumni of the Liverpool veterinary school, as was he himself.

The others in the line-up were Jill Nute, president of the Royal College, John Blackwell, president of the BCVA, Richard Hillman, president of the SPVS, and Professor Ed Hall, senior vicepresident of the BSAVA (deputising for Dr Richard Dixon). Seated in the front row was the BEVA president, Chris House, an RVC graduate.

Professor Hall commented that the profession could do better with communications but “we are doing better than we did in the past – although we are particularly lax in lobbying in Europe”.

John Blackwell said that the BCVA aimed to provide CPD to its members and to lobby through the BVA. “We feed into the BVA and this is working better now than it has done for quite some time.”

Richard Hillman said there was always a problem of how to represent members. “Do we lead our members or do we represent them? A balance is needed.” He added that the profession had been criticised regarding a new Veterinary Surgeons Act for not having a single voice but asked, “How can we?”

Jill Nute said the Royal College was in a slightly different position in that it did not represent its members but, she continued, “We have done a massive amount of communications with members, but do they read or absorb it? I’m afraid it’s a rather sad reflection that not everyone reads what is put in front of them.”

Stating that the College had good relations with the press and quite a lot of meetings with MPs, she said the biggest difficulty was in communicating with the public. The main area of contact was with complaints but many fell outside the remit of the College. A different system of resolving disputes was being considered.

The questioner, Des Thompson made a final comment that it was excellent for the profession that relations between the BVA and the RCVS had never been better.

Iain Richards, the incoming president of SPVS (also a Liverpool graduate), made a different point. “Every member should know who their local MP is and be in touch on a regular basis,” he said.

24-hour service

The first question of the near two-hour session had been asked by former SPVS president, John Hill: “Should the obligation to deliver a 24/7 service be a matter for individual practices and not for the RCVS?”

Richard Hillman said it was for the RCVS to consider the big ethical questions; Prof. Hall said he hoped the profession would not throw it away; John Blackwell reminded the audience that the obligation on practices was only to make provision for it but it was ultimately a College issue; Nicky Paull said it was right that the regulator made that decision; Jill Nute said it should be looked at from the public’s point of view.

When the question was put to the floor, almost everyone (there was one against and one abstention) was in favour of a 24/7 service.

Mrs Nute then commented, “Let’s have some innovative thinking and let’s do our best to serve the animals and their owners.”

Chris House said the service should be maintained and a workable solution found. He added that the model in small animal practices didn’t translate to the equine sector and Mr Blackwell said it didn’t suit farm practice either.


Former SPVS president Christine Shield asked if the PDP was matching up to expectations.

John Blackwell said that new graduates spent quite a lot of time in front of a computer ticking boxes; Prof. Hall said he supported the principle but not everybody was taking part; Jill Nute said a lot of graduates were taking part but it was still in the bedding-down phase and it would be refined as it developed; Richard Hillman said everyone agreed there should be a structure for CPD – this was the first phase and practitioners generally welcomed it; Nicky Paull said the BVA wanted to see every new graduate properly mentored.

Christine Magrath, for the VDS, commented that some new graduates did see it as a tick-box exercise and didn’t see beyond the horizon. Chris House said that some students suggested their practical training was not all it might be and he wondered if there was a need for a pre-registration period as in other professions.

Nicky Paull then asked: “Who expects new graduates to be perfect on day one?”

A trade union

Other questions related to the welfare problems of breeding abnormalities (Jacqui Molyneux); the proliferation of referral practices and whether that was encouraging vets to refer even simple cases (Brian Pound); whether vets who took a career break should require retraining or re-accreditation before starting again (Ewan McNeill); why the profession condoned the live transport of animals overseas for slaughter (Mike Vaughan); and finally, Andrew Parker sought the views of the panel on the possible formation of a dedicated trade union for the profession.

Richard Hillman acknowledged there were problems and said it was necessary to look at ways of resolving disputes. Ed Hall said there was a need for someone to represent people with employment issues; he hoped this could be done within existing organisation but he knew there were people who felt they did not have a voice. John Blackwell felt the formation of a union would be a retrograde step.

Jill Nute said that some vets did belong to a union but a problem could come if a call for a strike affected their professional obligations. Nicky Paull said the BVA was already providing 75% of what a union could do but she acknowledged that a lot of people felt disenfranchised.

“We don’t want any vets to feel they are on their own,” she added.

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