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Seeking greater security

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LAST month’s outbreak of Newcastle disease was quickly contained, but it did demonstrate the ease with which disease can cross national boundaries unless adequate safeguards are in place. In this instance, the distances involved were relatively small – the disease was brought into the UK with pheasants that had been imported from France to be reared and then shot – but in a world in which people, animals and goods can be moved from one side of the globe to the other within a couple of days, this may not always be the case. There is a need, constantly, to be on the lookout for exotic diseases, to have measures in place to stop them arriving and to have plans for dealing with disease outbreaks when they occur. Controls must operate at international, national and local levels. The whole issue of biosecurity will form the main theme of the first day of this year’s BVA Congress, to be held in London from September 30 to October 1 – and the recent outbreak of Newcastle disease, coupled with continuing concern about the threat posed by avian influenza, adds to the pertinence of the proceedings.

The first session of the congress, entitled ‘Stretching the boundaries – control measures in Europe and the UK’,will include presentations from representatives of the European Commission, Britain’s State Veterinary Service and veterinary practice, and examine the control measures currently applied internationally and nationally. Such controls become meaningless if they are not effectively applied in the field, and the next session, ‘Science amid the slurry’,will give a farming and a veterinary perspective on what is and what needs to be done at farm level. It is not just farmed species that are prone to and can transmit disease, and further sessions during the day will look at biosecurity in relation to companion and sporting animals. The lessons learned from the introduction and rapid spread ofWest Nile fever in the USA will be considered in a session entitled ‘West Nile fever – a case in point’.

Increased travel, and the relative ease with which people, animals and produce can move around the world, has raised the stakes in terms of disease control, and the potential threat posed by the possibility of bioterrorist attack has brought the issues into sharp focus. This is particularly true in the USA, where the prevention and control of animal and zoonotic diseases is seen as a national security issue. In the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture at the congress, Professor Paul Gibbs, of the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Florida, will provide an international perspective on disease control, in a presentation entitled ‘No longer an island – disease challenges in a shrinking world’.

Meeting the challenges now presenting themselves will require a sound veterinary infrastructure and, with the theme of ‘Coping with change in practice’, the second day of the congress will deal with recent developments of direct relevance to UK practitioners. New regulations on veterinary medicines are due to come into force at the end of October and, although certain aspects are still under discussion, they will inevitably affect the way medicines are classified and supplied. A congress debate will provide an up-to-the-minute update on how the legislation is progressing and its likely impact in practical terms.

A new Veterinary Surgeons Act is rather less imminent, but the effects, when it happens, could be even more profound. Although the content of any new legislation will ultimately be determined by Parliament, the RCVS has recently consulted on its own proposals for a new Act, which would provide for the professional regulation not just of veterinary surgeons but of veterinary nurses and other occupations providing veterinary services. Extending the ‘veterinary team’ in this way will have practical implications for both the regulators and those being regulated; a congress debate will examine these, drawing on the experiences of other professions that have already moved down a similar route.

A further debate will consider different approaches to providing for 24-hour emergency cover, following changes to RCVS guidance on this matter earlier this year. In addition, as an alternative to the main programme, a one-day seminar at the congress will provide practical advice on meeting the new RCVS Practice Standards Scheme, and will introduce the detailed, web-based guidance that the BVA is providing for its members.

Other debates at the congress will be geared towards recent graduates. More and more students are entering veterinary school and, like students in other disciplines, are graduating with increased debt. The Government wants to ‘widen participation’ in higher education but, perversely, has made it possible for universities to introduce variable tuition fees, which will make this harder to achieve. The changing demographics of the veterinary profession present challenges for educators, graduates and employers alike, and these will be examined during a debate entitled ‘Equal opportunities?’.With student debt a fact of life for many veterinary graduates these days, a further session, on personal finance, seems all the more relevant.

The congress will make good use of the amenities in the capital and will also provide an opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at veterinary activity at London Zoo. The main venue will be the Royal Society of Medicine, within easy walking distance of the BVA’s headquarters. Details of the congress have been sent to all UK veterinary surgeons on the RCVS Register and are also available on the BVA’s website, With its two main themes, the congress provides an important opportunity to confront some of the challenges facing the profession nationally and internationally and, through constructive debate, seek workable solutions to the benefit of all.

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