In her inaugural address as President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), Dr. Anna Judson has voiced significant concerns regarding the potential risks to public health and animal welfare in Northern Ireland if a long-term solution for continued access to veterinary medicines is not secured beyond 2025.

Addressing the audience at the BVA’s 2023 annual Northern Ireland dinner in Stormont, Dr. Judson highlighted the grave consequences of Northern Ireland losing access to 51% of veterinary medicines due to the Northern Ireland Protocol. This potential loss includes crucial vaccines, such as salmonella and leptospirosis vaccines, which are vital for animal and human health. The supply of vaccines for flu and tetanus in horses, and insulin for dogs and cats, would also be at risk.

Protecting Animal Health in Northern Ireland

Dr. Judson acknowledged the efforts of BVA’s Northern Ireland Branch, especially Past President Mark Little, in obtaining a three-year grace period that allows continued access to veterinary medicines under existing regulations until 2025. However, BVA continues to advocate to both the UK Government and European Commission to prioritize a permanent solution. Anna emphasised the necessity of preserving high standards of animal welfare and public health, stating, “Finding a permanent solution must be a top priority ahead of the grace period expiration in 2025 to protect animal welfare and public health.”

Dr. Judson also underscored the importance of making animal health and welfare a central aspect of the Department for Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs’ new Future Farming Framework. BVA calls for collaboration among government, veterinarians, and industry to develop a scheme that encourages vet-farmer engagement, long-term improvements, and maximises opportunities related to animal health and welfare.

Dr. Judson also stressed the significance of financial investment in animal health and biosecurity, highlighting its positive impact on human and environmental health and its contribution to the efficiency and sustainability of food production systems and the agricultural sector.

Reforming the Veterinary Surgeons Act

The absence of a dedicated vet school in Northern Ireland has led to a shortage of local veterinary professionals, with many students choosing to study elsewhere and not returning after qualifying. Dr. Judson called for increased accessibility to veterinary education in the region, proposing that inclusive veterinary education could help break down economic, social, and geographic barriers hindering students from pursuing a career in the profession. This move would also help alleviate the ongoing workforce shortage.

The outdated Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1966, which does not recognize roles such as veterinary nurses and vet techs, was another point of concern. BVA continues to lobby the UK Government for legislative reforms to this act, aiming to bring about much-needed changes. Commenting the fact that the title of veterinary nurse is not protected, allowing anyone to use it, she said: “This must be rectified.”

In her concluding remarks, Dr. Judson urged attendees to support BVA’s lobbying efforts and engage with the veterinary profession to find resolutions to these critical issues – emphasizing the importance of collective action to ensure the well-being of animals, public health, and the veterinary industry in Northern Ireland.