If the Government is serious about maintaining animal welfare standards and protecting domestic food production, it will put vets on the Shortage Occupation List, says Shadow Defra Secretary Sue Hayman.
Vets are integral to British agriculture.
But last week, the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), Simon Doherty, told an audience of parliamentarians the veterinary sector is at ‘crisis point’, imploring the Immigration Minister to return vets to the Shortage Occupation List to safeguard against a post-Brexit crisis in veterinary capacity.
Britain is already somewhat short of vets, and many vets employed in British abattoirs are immigrants from nations in the European Union.
This matters, because if there is not a vet on the line, the line shuts, and thus there is a huge potential impact on the way our food is provided. Failing to cover the shortfall in vet numbers will have serious consequences post-Brexit.
The BVA says in terms of European Economic Area (EEA) veterinary surgeons, who are vital to the UK, around 50 per cent of new entrants each year who register with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) are EU nationals, and 95 per cent of vets in our abattoirs are either EU nationals or foreign-registered vets.
To put this into context, Jason Aldiss from Eville & Jones, one of the major agencies for supplying foreign vets, has two British vets and 600 foreign vets on his books.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has said Defra is ‘cavalier’ about having enough suitably qualified staff to take on the veterinary work, particularly in ports and abattoirs.
Vets have previously come here from the EU and from outside the EU, but how do Ministers intend to fill the gap if they stop coming?
The committee recommended Defra ‘needs urgently to develop a credible plan for increasing vet capacity for export health certificates that does not add to exporters’ costs, including addressing concerns around coverage across the country and whether it is appropriate or possible for non-vets to sign off health certificates’.
These jobs are statutory; someone else cannot do them. They require veterinary surgeons. That is why the BVA has expressed concern and highlighted how important those vets are.
The same is true of the RCVS, which will oversee the new regulatory arrangement for registering vets from abroad. Those bodies are concerned and want the issue to be addressed.
The BVA and the RCVS referred the issue to the Migration Advisory Committee, to ensure vets are considered one of the special professions which must be exempted from the rigmarole.
There is a registration process and some will get through it, but the cost of the exam is £2,500, which is not inconsiderable for someone who, for all sorts of reasons, may not be earning an income until they get to this country.
Vets matter, and not just to our food chain. Our foreign vets are somewhat quizzical about where their future in this country lies, at a time when we need them more than ever.
There can be no doubt the British veterinary sector is in crisis and the need to avoid a cliff edge is imperative.
We need to safeguard our veterinary workforce, for animal welfare standards, and to protect food production, the largest manufacturing sector in Britain.
Sue can be found tweeting at @SueHayman1