The UK must work to ensure high standards of veterinary practice across the EU, a chief vet has said.
Professor Stuart Reid, President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), has identified the assurance of appropriate standards across Europe as one of the priorities for his term of office, he told Central Lobby.
"The UK enjoys some of the best animal care and highest standards of health and welfare anywhere in the world. Over the years the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has played a pivotal role in setting, maintain and advancing these standards, and it is a huge honour to be their President.
"The veterinary surgeons who graduate in this country end up in all corners of the world; similarly, every year, many from overseas arrive in the UK to work as practising vets. It is for these reasons that international veterinary medicine is very much a focus."
His primary ambition in this regard is for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to assist in bringing together the different international accrediting and regulatory bodies. In January they held a workshop which looked towards harmonisation of standards.
"Despite the fact that we are the longest established of the accreditors, it is fair to say that the one that has had the biggest global impact recently, in terms of raising standards beyond their shores, has been the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Anything we can do collectively that will raise standards of animal health and food security around the planet has got to be a good thing; trade and pathogens all transcend national boundaries."
Reid cites some of the issues in the European context:
"A significant proportion of veterinary schools in Europe will either never have been visited by an international accreditor, or may have been visited and not met the standard [set by the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE)]. And yet graduates from these foreign schools can still practise anywhere in Europe." Reid explains how the "conundrum of the mobility of a profession in Europe" can affect work on home soil.
The role for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, according to Reid, is to lobby more effectively so that EAEVE, either alone or in partnership, is able to ensure that appropriate standards are applied across the continent and is able to enforce them.
Reid also believes that another factor arising from the mobility of workers is the confusion due to disparity between titles; in the United Kingdom veterinary qualifications are Bachelor's degrees, whilst abroad it is a Doctoral qualification. This can cause unnecessary confusion. The solution may be for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to allow the option for UK vets to use the courtesy title of 'Dr' in a manner similar to dentists; ultimately, this is a decision for the RCVS Council, but it would bring the UK in line with vets from the rest of the world.
Closer to home Reid explains that the RCVS has been remarkably successful with changes to the organisation's governance - the new, independent disciplinary process brought about by a recent legislative reform order being the prime example.
Reid, whilst considering this a really important step forward, adds "We have demonstrated that we are committed to being a modern first rate regulator and we should continue to ask ourselves how we might continue to pursue this aim. And this may include further consideration of our governance and Council structure.
Whatever the size and shape of any future Council, Reid is clear:
"As a self-regulating profession, elected veterinarians must be at the core of our governance. Ensuring that there is a significant proportion of lay and appointed members with appropriate skills and experience will also be important as, without doubt, we must ensure we are fit for purpose and provide clarity for both the public and the profession."
Reid points to the new Advanced Practitioner status, for which applications have recently opened, as one new development designed to bring clarity to both the public and the profession. This new 'middle tier' of veterinary accreditation between the initial degree and RCVS Specialist status will demonstrate that a veterinary surgeon has achieved a postgraduate certificate level of knowledge and experience and committed to keep this up to date.
Reid is also keen to build on recent progress within the veterinary nursing (VN) profession. A new Royal Charter for the College, expected to come into force by the end of 2014, underpins VN regulation and formally empowers the Veterinary Nurses Council for the first time. However the title 'veterinary nurse' is not legally protected, therefore it can be used by untrained laypeople.
"If we are to follow through appropriately, we somehow need to find a way of protecting the title 'veterinary nurse' - and this will require some form of new legislation."
More generally the new Charter will clarify the College's role and remit and allow it to develop its unique role as a Royal College that also regulates.
"The new Charter will allow the College to do all of the things expected of it as a single entity, which previous generations have found difficult because of the perception that a division existed between statute and charter functions," he says.
Reid credits input from the British Veterinary Association in the development of the Charter. "Without their support it would have been a much more difficult task".
Reid outlines that the Charter will also enable the College to address some of the issues on which DEFRA has been focused, such as whether and how the RCVS can assist other professions associated with animal health in their desire for regulation.
During his period of tenure as President, Reid also wishes to focus on the mental health of the veterinary profession - including at student level. He states that this is "massively important, as the profession has generations coming through with different needs and different challenges".
Looking towards the General Election, Reid hopes for manifestos that recognise that "animal health and food security in the UK need a strong DEFRA."
"Without DEFRA and ministerial focus on the issues associated with animal health and welfare, it's a very difficult job to get done; we are enormously grateful for the relationship we currently enjoy but we are always looking to make things better".
Reid sums up the nature of the College:
"We don't represent the profession, we regulate it; and whilst we don't represent the profession, the profession is very well represented in our body. Ultimately our role is one of public good and defending the public interest. To this we are totally committed."