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Catching up and looking ahead

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THE theme of this year's BVA Congress is ‘Vets in a changing world’ and there can be little doubt that the world in which vets must operate is changing rapidly. Last year's congress took place just a few months after the General Election and, with the new Coalition Government having embarked on a round of reorganisation and spending cuts, highlighted some of the uncertainties surrounding the new policies – in particular, about how state veterinary activity would be organised and paid for in the future (VR, October 2, 2010, vol 167, p 502). With an opening address from Jim Paice, the minister of state for agriculture and food, this year's congress, to be held in London from September 22 to 24, should provide an opportunity to assess how much progress has been made over the past 12 months and the extent to which some of the concerns expressed at last year's meeting have been allayed.

The Government has said that it wants to ‘turn society on its head, taking power away from Whitehall and putting it in the hands of people and communities’. It envisages a society in which people take responsibility for their own actions, rather than relying on the state. What will this mean for vets? Following Mr Paice's address, a debate entitled ‘Vets in the Big Society’ will consider ways in which companion animal and large animal vets are already contributing to society and explore ways in which they could do more.

A panel discussion involving the four chief veterinary officers of the UK promises to be equally stimulating, giving delegates a chance to ask questions about the efforts being made to safeguard animal health in the light of the changes taking place.

At international level, 2011 has been dubbed World Veterinary Year to mark the 250th anniversary of the modern veterinary profession following the establishment of the world's first veterinary school in Lyon in 1761. It has also seen the culmination of what might be regarded as one of the veterinary profession's most spectacular achievements, with an official declaration that rinderpest, a disease that has devastated cattle and the communities that depend on them throughout history, has been eradicated worldwide. In the plenary Wooldridge Memorial lecture, Peter Roeder, who has been closely involved in the eradication programme, will explain how vets can contribute to disease control on a global scale.

A related series of sessions organised by the BVA's Overseas Group will consider the role of vets in helping to meet future world food demand, and in disaster relief and management.

Closer to home, ‘contentious issues’ debates will consider topics germane to the business of both farm and companion animal practice, with discussion of how farm animal veterinary services might be better aligned to market demands, and of the dilemmas facing small animal vets and animal welfare charities when the options available for treating animals are limited by the client's ability to pay. There will also be a debate on the role of paraprofessionals in providing veterinary services and how such activity should be regulated. Another debate will consider progress in tackling the animal welfare problems associated with inappropriate dog breeding since the television programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed was broadcast in 2008.

With university tuition fees in England set to rise dramatically, a debate entitled ‘Veterinary education – a price worth paying?’ should be of interest not just to academics and students but to future employers of veterinary graduates and everyone concerned about the future of the profession.

A new feature at this year's congress will be a small animal CPD programme organised by the BSAVA. The Friday of the congress will be devoted to feline medicine, while on Saturday the focus will be on cardiorespiratory medicine and gastroenterology medicine and surgery.

Change inevitably presents challenges and, at times of rapid change, it is important to try to anticipate developments and plan accordingly. By combining CPD with politics, the BVA Congress provides a unique opportunity to catch up with what is happening and prepare for the challenges to come.

■ The 2011 BVA Congress will be held at the Royal College of Physicians in London from September 22 to 24. Full details are available at www.bva.co.uk/congress

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