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Vets and the public good

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THE role of vets in treating animals is well known, but they contribute to society in many other ways, which needs to be better recognised. With the theme ‘Vets and the public good’, this year's BVA Congress - to be held in Glasgow from September 23 to 25 - will explore different aspects of their contribution while highlighting issues of current concern.

As well as politics, the congress will feature a programme of clinical CPD put together by the Edinburgh and Glasgow veterinary schools, the Moredun Research Institute and the SAC, making best use of their combined expertise. There will also be a programme of non-clinical CPD, focusing on better practice management.

The scene for some of the debates will be set by Stuart Reid, dean of Glasgow veterinary school, who will give the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture. Most people think of vets as someone to consult when their animal is ill, and perhaps as guardians of animal welfare. However, the veterinary contribution to society goes much further than that. In his lecture Professor Reid will discuss this wider role, which extends into areas such as public health, infectious disease control, scientific research, public education, food production, national security, disaster management, species conservation and care of the environment, and international development. Aspects of the veterinary contribution to international development will be discussed in more detail in a session organised by the BVA's Overseas Group on how researchers are developing effective strategies for controlling foot-and-mouth disease in Africa, and how the Scottish NGO, GALVmed, is working to improve people's livelihoods in developing countries.

Topics to be covered in ‘contentious issues’ debates include problems being encountered under the Dangerous Dogs Act, with contributions from vets and others who have to work at the sharp end of the law as it stands; dilemmas associated with the recognition and reporting of non-accidental injuries in animals; and the vet's role as a witness in animal cruelty cases. Another debate, entitled ‘Treatment too far?’, will consider the point at which euthanasia should be considered the appropriate option in the treatment of animals, with opposing views being presented.

New approaches to farm animal welfare will be discussed in a debate prompted by a recent report from the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which suggested that the welfare of animals should be assessed not just on the basis of whether their basic needs are met, but in terms of their overall quality of life.

Discussion of how animal health and welfare will be paid for in future has been notable by its absence during the recent election campaign, but can be expected to start again in earnest now the election is over and ‘hard financial decisions’ start being made. In this context, a congress debate on responsibility and cost sharing will clearly be relevant and will include an update from Rosemary Radcliffe, chair of the committee which is advising the Government on how to move forward with responsibility and cost sharing in England. A debate on antimicrobial resistance promises to be equally pertinent, particularly in the light of a review of EU legislation on veterinary medicines. One option being considered in the review is that the legislation should be amended to provide a legal basis to restrict the veterinary use of antimicrobials that are considered critical for human medicine.

Responsibility for animal health policy is devolved in the UK, and the policies being pursued in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland continue to diverge. Following the success of a similar debate in 2009, the congress will also include a panel discussion involving the four chief veterinary officers of the UK, providing a chance to clarify the challenges and opportunities that devolution presents.

The congress theme of ‘Vets and the public good’ is also reflected in the programme of clinical CPD which, as well as providing information on a practical approach to conditions commonly seen in first-opinion practice, will include sessions on disease prevention and safeguarding public health.

Arguments about what may and may not be considered to be in the public good assume added importance at times when money is tight and governments seek to offload some of their responsibilities. With politicians of all parties apparently in agreement that hard times lie ahead, the Congress programme seems particularly relevant. Further details are available at bva.co.uk/congress

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