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Brexit Exacerbates Veterinary Shortage in the UK, Threatening Public Health and Food Security

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Brexit exacerbates veterinary shortage, according to MPs

MPs have highlighted that the departure of the UK from the EU has led to a significant decline in the number of EU veterinarians, with their numbers dropping by over 50%. Simultaneously, it has become more challenging for these professionals to work in the UK, amid

Political journalist @alixculbertson

Wednesday, May 8, 2024, 4:

Members of Parliament have raised concerns over a growing scarcity of veterinarians, attributing the issue to new visa regulations and food safety demands following Brexit.

According to a letter from Conservative MP Sir Robert Goodwill, who chairs the environment, food and rural affairs committee, a shortage of veterinarians threatens to undermine public and animal health, jeopardizes the UK’s £4.2 million meat, dairy, and egg export business, and raises concerns about animal welfare and food safety.

The correspondence addressed to Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, advocates for increased financial support for veterinary education, better pay for veterinarians in public health positions, and a decrease in the salary threshold necessary for foreign veterinarians to secure skilled visas.

In a meeting with leaders from the veterinary sector in March, members of the parliamentary committee reported that the decline in the number of veterinarians, which saw an 11.5% drop in 2018, has continued to deteriorate. Nonetheless, they noted the absence of comprehensive data prevents a detailed understanding of the extent and specifics of these shortages.

Officials expressed worries that the shortage is especially troubling because Brexit has introduced additional biosecurity protocols for animals entering the UK, altered food and animal certification requirements, and made it more challenging to hire veterinarians from abroad.

Veterinary professionals consulted expressed concerns over the UK's capacity to manage continuous or major animal disease outbreaks.

Avian influenza has significantly impacted chicken and turkey producers in recent times. Recently, authorities have issued alerts about a new variant of the bluetongue virus, which poses a potential threat to both cattle and sheep.

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The letter stated that addressing this situation would require veterinarians from both the public and private sectors to halt their normal operations because there is no available emergency backup capacity domestically.

Most veterinarians ineligible for Skilled Worker visa

Parliament members have noted that a significant number of veterinarians are exiting the field because of intense stress, lack of work-life balance, and a sense of being underappreciated.

In 2021, nearly half of the veterinarians who resigned had four years or less of experience, with 21% having worked in the field for less than a year.

Officials highlighted that their primary worry is the recently implemented minimum wage requirement of £48,100 for foreign veterinary surgeons seeking to enter the UK with a Skilled Worker visa, a policy that started last month.

"The MPs stated that this will prevent anyone except very skilled professionals from being employed in the UK."

They proposed a new minimum wage of £38,700, noting that while the existing minimum of £33,670 for individuals under 26 is a positive step, it often doesn't benefit many veterinarians due to the five to six years required to complete a veterinary degree.

"The MPs noted that the UK continues to depend on foreign-trained veterinary professionals," explaining that while new veterinary schools have been established, their graduates are not yet available, and the demand for such professionals in the UK is both substantial and immediate.

The scarcity has worsened due to a notable decrease in the influx of international veterinarians to the UK, with the figure of EU veterinarians working in the country dropping by over 50% since Brexit.

Increased Financial Support Necessary for Universities

Members of Parliament have advocated for increased financial support for veterinary studies, citing it as the costliest program to administer, with annual expenses ranging from £27,000 to £32,000 for each student.

In England and Wales, universities receive £20,000 annually for each veterinary student, while in Scotland, the amount is £17,500. Despite these contributions, tuition fees have remained unchanged since the 2017-18 academic year. Meanwhile, educational funding has only increased by 4%, which actually represents a decrease of 15 to 30% in real terms since the 2012-2013 academic year.

According to the MPs, universities are becoming more dependent on the fees from international students, even though there is a strong demand for enrollment from UK students.

The Members of Parliament proposed a program to erase student loans as an incentive for graduates to pursue careers in sectors and regions of the UK that are facing significant challenges, including rural locations and public health positions.

Government salaries should be equivalent to those

They further suggested that salaries for public health veterinarians should be increased. Initially, these positions may offer comparable pay to the private sector, but over time, they do not keep pace, resulting in a pay gap of £10,000 to £20,000 after five years.

Read More: Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke Switches Allegiance to Labour PartyFormer Conservative Minister Open to Farage Joining Party

Veterinarians specializing in public health play a critical role in maintaining the health of animals and the safety of food products. Their responsibilities range from ensuring food safety and promoting animal welfare to preventing disease outbreaks, certifying exports, and engaging in research

A spokesperson from Defra stated: "We appreciate the contributions of veterinarians and other animal care professionals. We are currently exploring optimal strategies to leverage their expertise to alleviate current and future pressures on veterinary services."

"In our ongoing initiatives, we formed the Veterinary Education and Future Capacity Working Group. This group collaborates with both public and private entities to address workforce deficits and to foster a robust educational framework that supports the diverse needs of the veterinary field."

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