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Holding together?

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DEVOLUTION means that, increasingly, England, Scotland and Wales are pursuing different policies on animal health. Meanwhile, traditional approaches are changing and the veterinary profession is becoming more specialised as it fulfils different roles. Under the theme ‘Together forever?’, this year's BVA Congress, to be held in Cardiff in September, will examine what this means for animal health, and the implications for individual practitioners and the profession as a whole. Building on the successful format of the last couple of years, the congress will feature a series of ‘contentious issues’ debates, with additional CPD being provided by some of the BVA's specialist divisions.

Responsibility for decisions on animal health in the UK has been devolved for some time, but the effects are becoming more apparent. Tensions arose during the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2007 and, as different approaches to bovine TB and bluetongue have demonstrated, the devolved administrations are increasingly going their separate ways. One of the debates will consider the advantages and disadvantages of this in terms of safeguarding animal health, and whether the administrative, operational and budgetary structures currently in place are appropriate.

A debate on cost and responsibility sharing will also reflect the main congress theme. Plans being developed by Defra include a proposal to establish a new agency for animal health, which will operate ‘at arm's length’ from government. However, responsibility for animal welfare will remain within Defra. Animal health and welfare are interdependent, as the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy seems to recognise. The debate will ask, can animal health and welfare really be administered separately, or should they be regarded as an indivisible whole?

A further debate will look at the role of extramural studies (EMS) in veterinary undergraduate education. Currently the subject of a review by the RCVS, EMS have long been an integral part of veterinary education in the UK but, with increased numbers of students, consolidation in practice, the problem of student debt and new approaches to education, questions arise as to whether it can continue to deliver what is required. There are also questions about value for money, and for whom. This debate will consider whether the current system is sustainable, possible alternatives and whether a different approach is needed.

Other debates at the congress will consider the future of the Pet Travel Scheme; where horses fit in the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy; whether the eradication of bovine TB is actually feasible; and issues surrounding the reclassification of commonly used medicines. Meanwhile, recent months have seen significant upheaval in the pedigree dog world, as the adverse consequences of selective breeding have come under scrutiny. Advances in genetics and the development of new tests present new opportunities for tackling inherited disease in dogs. Another debate will look at how vets can help breeders — and what breeders want from their vet.

The plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture at the congress will look at how the role of vets has changed over the years as knowledge has expanded and public expectations have increased. Despite increased specialisation in the profession, the unique combination of veterinary skills that is so useful to society continues to be recognised — and the profession still seems to regard itself as a cohesive whole. The plenary lecture will seek to identify the defining characteristics of a vet, and what still binds the profession together.

Topics to be considered in the CPD programme include bovine TB and bluetongue, responsible use of anthelmintics in sheep and the lessons learned from the outbreak of equine influenza in Australia in 2007. For those more interested in small animals, there will be sessions on emergency and critical care of rabbits, and on clinical examination of the eye. Reflecting difficult times, the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons will be contributing sessions aimed at helping practices to beat the recession. In addition, a programme from the BVA's Overseas Group will look at how organisations delivering animal health services overseas might work together more effectively.

The congress will take place in Cardiff from September 24 to 26. Full details of the programme will be available shortly. As the programme already makes clear, much is changing, both within the profession and outside it. Anyone with an eye to the future should put the dates in their diary now.

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