A new independent Advisory Group tasked to recommend a future delivery model for surveillance in England and Wales has been announced by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).The Advisory Group is chaired by Dirk Pfeiffer, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College. It includes experts from government, the veterinary profession and the livestock farming and private laboratory industry. The Advisory Group has been created so that the needs of key stakeholder groups are considered in the development of the future model of surveillance.

Surveillance combines the provision of a diagnostic service with seeking to identify new or re-emerging threats to our livestock population and to public health. It involves a partnership approach between livestock keepers, private veterinary surgeons, the Scottish Agricultural College, industry bodies and AHVLA in order to generate useful disease intelligence.

AHVLA is seeking to identify ways to undertake surveillance both more effectively and at an affordable cost to the taxpayer. Work in this area has been on-going since 2010, and the merger between the former Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) has created opportunities to review how surveillance can best be delivered. The new surveillance delivery model will aim to address capacity imbalances in the current service where provision sometimes outstrips demand. The independent Advisory Group is also expected to recommend how improved methods and better integration of different surveillance data streams potentially involving several stakeholders can result in more efficient and effective surveillance.

Surveillance has historically been based on in-depth investigation of disease incidents with an emphasis on post-mortem examinations carried out at AHVLA's regional laboratories. This system is a key element in the government's risk-based approach to the management of animal disease related threats.

The current model, although successful in identifying diseases in the past, can be improved upon. A recent internal AHVLA report identified possible options for achieving better surveillance at the same or lower cost by, for example, adopting risk -based approaches and working more closely in partnership with veterinarians and their farmer clients, as well utilizing other surveillance data sources.

AHVLA will also conduct an online questionnaire survey aimed at veterinary practitioners and livestock keepers. The survey will seek individual opinions on the inputs, mechanisms, outputs and value of surveillance in England and Wales. The Advisory Group will be involved in the design of the questionnaire and will consider the results of the survey during this review process.

The review is expected to be completed by early March 2012, following which recommendations on a way forward will be made by the Advisory Group.

Brief report from the first Meeting of the Surveillance Advisory Group on 6 January 2012

1. The Group agreed Terms of Reference and Modus Operandi as well as membership. Membership will remain as it is. There will be a further meeting on 3 February and 2 March 2012. A report will be forwarded to Catherine Brown CEO AHVLA by 9 March 2012.

2. The Group discussed the list of requirements that are relevant for the design of a future surveillance delivery model. A list derived from the AHVLA Sustainable Surveillance Project (ASSP) report was used as a starting point. Members of the Group have been asked to consider this draft list of requirements, identify their priority within their area of expertise and consider if additional requirements have to be added to the list.

3. The Group discussed and agreed contents of an online questionnaire survey that will be conducted within the next 3-4 weeks. The purpose of the survey is to seek stakeholders' views on how to balance diagnostic service versus surveillance intelligence needs, as well as getting an understanding of the relevance of different requirements associated with surveillance for stakeholders. Preliminary results of the survey will be made available at the next meeting and summary results will be included in the Advisory Group recommendation report.

4. As a starting point for discussion and addition, the Group were presented with a number of potential options for future surveillance delivery models, and were asked to propose other model variations during the next 2 weeks. A review will be conducted to collate and summarize scientific evidence in relation to the performance of these models, and the results will be presented at the next meeting.