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What's in a name?

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IT seems extraordinary that, after 140 years, the name of the State Veterinary Service (svs) is to be dropped as a result of a rebranding exercise, but that appears to be what is happening. As The Veterinary Record reported last week, the svs is to be renamed ‘Animal Health’ from April 1, to reflect a wider remit resulting from mergers with the Dairy Hygiene and Egg Marketing Inspectorates, and the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service. Announcing the change in a letter e-mailed to veterinary and other organisations on March 21, the chief executive, Ms Glenys Stacey, acknowledged that there were ‘sensitive issues’ surrounding the name of the agency, but indicated that the old one was no longer felt to be suitable. ‘We have worked extensively with our people to explore the relevance and effectiveness of the name State Veterinary Service — for today and for the future — and despite real emotional attachment to the name, we have found it wanting’ (VR, March 24, 2007, vol 160, p 386).

Ms Stacey explained that the svs's work in animal health and welfare and public health is ‘increasingly varied, and not always veterinary (in the strict sense of the word), although veterinarians continue to play an essential and valued role in our organisation day-to-day and in exotic disease outbreaks’. The organisations joining the SVS in the enlarged agency had ‘congruent roles relating directly or indirectly to animals, animal health and welfare and public health’. The new name was intended to ‘express in generic terms what we do’ and ‘convey authority but without compromise to openness and approachability’.

Although the word ‘veterinary’ has been lost from the title, the agency's new logo includes a modern representation of the Staff of Aesculapius. This, she said, was ‘the worldwide symbol for veterinarians’, although it is perhaps more widely recognised as a medical symbol. ‘The use of this symbol,’ she explained, ‘provides a direct link to the veterinary core of the organisation and also promotes the professional differential between the agency and other organisations.’

It can be argued that it doesn't matter what an organisation is called as long as it does a good job. Nevertheless, the loss of the word ‘veterinary’ from the agency's title is worrying, particularly at a time when the World Organisation for Animal Health (oie) is seeking to strengthen official veterinary services worldwide. The name Animal Health does nothing to convey the public health element of the agency's remit and, while a picture might be worth a thousand words, the medical/veterinary reference in the logo is likely to be lost on most people.

Perhaps more worrying is what the change might mean for veterinarians' perceived role within the agency, and how this might change as the agency evolves. It is two years since the SVS was moved out of ‘core defra’ and established as an executive agency, as part of the Government's strategy of separating the development of policy from policy delivery (VR, April 9, 2005, vol 156, p 459). This was seen by some as having the potential to weaken the position of veterinarians in government service and this latest development could add to those concerns. Certainly, there would seem to be more to the rebranding than a simple name change. In her letter on March 21, Ms Stacey remarked, ‘More fundamentally, behind the scenes our managers and staff are working together to create a shared sense of individual and organisational values and to agree the behaviours required to best deliver animal health services in ways that meet customer expectations, and are true to defra and wider government policy now and for the future. We aim to integrate delivery with the customer in mind, and ensure that our field staff represent the new, merged organisation rather than their source organisations.’

It will be interesting to see how the agency's new identity will impact on issues such as tb testing, as well as on lvi (local veterinary inspector) negotiations where, for the past two years and more, progress has stalled.

Things have moved on since the mid-19th century when the svs was established in response to an incursion of rinderpest and branding was probably more usually applied to cattle. They have also moved on since October 14, 1965, when the svs celebrated its centenary. In a plenary paper at that year's bva Congress, Sir John Winnifrith, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, paid tribute to a century of solid achievement, describing the history of the svs as ‘one of which the profession can be justly proud’.1 An editorial in The Veterinary Record described its achievements in eradicating or containing ‘the worst’ animal diseases as ‘one of the greatest contributions our profession has made to agriculture’.2 As things have worked out, the editorial was perhaps a little premature in referring to ‘the recent triumph over bovine tuberculosis’, but its main point — that new diseases continued to arise, that old diseases could re-emerge and ‘menace us again’, and that significant endemic diseases had still to be dealt with — still holds true. The veterinary contribution to tackling these challenges is as vital now as it ever was, if not more so, and should not be underestimated as governments and their policies change and agencies play around with names.


  • 1 History of the State Veterinary Service in Britain. Veterinary Record (1965) vol 77, pp 1221-1227

  • 2 The Centenary of the State Veterinary Service. Veterinary Record (1965) vol 77, p 1251

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