Government cutbacks are likely to make it harder for the UK to identify and prevent the spread of animal diseases, one of the country’s top vets has warned.
Carl Padgett, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), used his annual London dinner speech to call upon the Government to protect the UK’s veterinary surveillance network, urging it to “slow down” on its proposed shake-up.
In autumn last year the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency announced it would rationalise its network of veterinary laboratories in England and Wales, a move which Mr Padgett said “came as a surprise to us”.
Among the proposals are plans to close the AHVLA lab in Thirsk alongside two others in the South West.
The scientist stressed the importance of a robust surveillance system in the UK, citing the vital role it had played in identifying diseases like Bluetongue and Schmallenberg disease – the latter of which has only been identified in recent weeks and continues to spread across the country.
Last month the AHVLA announced the creation of a new independent advisory group to recommend a future delivery model for veterinary surveillance in England and Wales.
Mr Padgett called on Defra to listen to the recommendations of the surveillance review group before making any lasting decisions.
“Of course we are well aware of the significant financial pressures faced by the government and its agencies. And we are prepared to work with the government to find the right solutions,” he told an audience that included Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.
“But we struggle to understand the mixed messages. First AHVLA announced these significant changes to the veterinary laboratory network and then it announced a review group to look at surveillance. This seemed to be a clear case of putting the cart before the horse.”
“We would urge Defra and AHVLA to slow down, give the surveillance review group time for full consideration, and listen carefully to any recommendations it makes. Decisions made now will impact on our future ability to deliver that first line of defence and if we lose the infrastructure of our veterinary surveillance system it will almost certainly be impossible to rebuild.”
The AHVLA’s parent department, Defra, is currently facing budget cutbacks that are among the highest faced by any Government department, with its budget being reduced by around a third.
Mr Padgett has expressed his concerns in the past of private labs being used in greater abundance and lamented the lack of consultation with industry experts.
Defra currently plans to stop laboratory testing at Thirsk by the end of this month as it looks to cut costs, with similar action planned for sites at Langford and Truro, putting more than 100 jobs at risk.
Mr Padgett also covered the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, TB testing and TB policy and a proposed a ban on wild animals in travelling circuses.
A spokesman for the AHVLA said the organisation has “sought to identify ways to provide effective services, but at a lower cost to the tax payer”.
He continued: “Following a review, we concluded that laboratory testing does not always need to be carried out alongside diagnostic post mortem examinations, and we plan to stop conducting laboratory services work at eight regional laboratories.
“These measures will continue to ensure the robustness of our testing, and we are confident there will be no decline in the quality of our services, including our ability to identify notifiable diseases and emerging diseases.”