Gerard Brouwer-Ince was formerly an inspector under the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act. This article is based on a presentation he gave at the AWF Discussion Forum in London in May
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FOR many years veterinary surgeons have been involved in animal research, providing advice on health and welfare, clinical services and generally supporting research programmes involving the use of animals. While larger establishments and the more informed smaller institutions had always encouraged veterinary involvement, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) made the appointment of a named veterinary surgeon (NVS) at all licensed establishments mandatory. Some changes to ASPA came into place on January 1, 2013.
ASPA comprises a three-tier licensing system. The establishment itself is licensed, setting minimum standards for the housing, care and welfare of animals undergoing regulated procedures and also ascribing duties and responsibilities to a number of named individuals including the NVS and the named animal care and welfare officer (NACWO). Programmes of research work involving regulated procedures are licensed under Project Licences (PPLs) while those performing those procedures are required to hold Personal Licences (PILs). In addition, each establishment is required to operate an animal welfare and ethical review body (AWERB) that provides guidance and advice to the establishment licence holder on all aspects of animal care and research work at the establishment. The NVS (together with the NACWO) interacts closely with the local AWERB and with all the licence holders and so has an excellent opportunity to influence the practice of high standards of care and welfare of all animals on site.
The overarching expectations of the NVS are to keep abreast of developments in laboratory animal science, to advise on methods of reducing adverse effects of procedures on animals, and to contribute to considerations of non-sentient alternatives to live animals in experimental studies. The day-to-day work of the NVS may contrast considerably with the work of colleagues in general clinical practice and the approach to dealing with clinical issues has to be tailored to the scientific context in which the animals are being used. The range of animals for which the NVS may be responsible also varies considerably from establishment to establishment and the work may involve mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, ferrets, birds, fish, amphibians, dogs, cats, equids, pigs, sheep, cattle and non-human primates as well as animals obtained from or being studied in the wild.
The NVS will need to be familiar with the main provisions of ASPA, including approved methods of humane killing, in order to offer an effective service, which has to be provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Visits to all parts of the establishment need to be made frequently enough to properly monitor the health and welfare of all animals on site, but such visits are also key to understanding the work and knowing the people involved in conducting the studies. It follows that the NVS must have a thorough knowledge of the husbandry and welfare requirements of the specific species used at the establishment. Suitable health records must be maintained, as in clinical practice, and the NVS is also expected to control, supply and direct the use of controlled drugs, prescription medicines and other therapeutic substances on site. Where it is called for, the NVS is expected to ensure proper clinical investigations and to advise on treatments to ensure good animal welfare, taking into account the nature of the studies being conducted. Herd health management is as relevant to research establishments as to commercial farms and other large-scale animal undertakings.
If in the course of a visit an animal's health or welfare gives rise to concern, or if other matters are drawn to his/her attention, the NVS will be expected to notify relevant people (particularly the licence holders) or otherwise take appropriate steps to ensure the animal receives appropriate care. Often the NACWOs will initiate many of the discussions since they are checking animals daily as part of their specific duties, but ultimately the NVS takes responsibility to act if an animal is suffering or pain cannot be effectively controlled. From time to time the NVS will be required to undertake certifications and all normal RCVS professional standards will apply in such circumstances.
An important role for the NVS is to participate in the establishment's AWERB procedures, advising licensees on the application of the 3Rs (reduction, refinement and replacement). This is a time when considerable influence can be exerted. Project licences can be very technical documents and it is not uncommon for the NVS to become a judge on animal welfare where the NACWO and the researchers disagree on what is reasonable or acceptable.
The role of NVS comes with its own unique challenges. Challenges to your professional judgement, because your decisions may not be popular with some researchers; challenges to your scientific judgement where the broad scientific training of a veterinary surgeon may exceed the knowledge of a researcher in a narrow specialism; challenges to your personal ethics in making cost/benefit assessments if you feel that the scientific benefits are sometimes being overstated by researchers with vested interests; challenges to your ability to give truly impartial advice if that advice costs your employer time and money; challenges to your personal integrity when researchers recognise that your views might carry more weight than theirs; and challenges to your personal social life because involvement in animal research still carries a stigma in some quarters. As in so many jobs, life would be easy without some people (with ambitions and personalities) and politics getting in the way of getting a good job done.
However, the work of the NVS comes with rewards too. The work is varied and intellectually demanding; there is involvement in scientific progress and achievement; and there is the opportunity for teamwork, bringing with it respect from colleagues. Above all things, the principal reward is being an advocate for animals and being able to do your best for them.
The NVS will continue to be truly effective if (a) animal welfare remains at the top of the agenda, (b) there is full support from the establishment licence holder, and (c) there is an effective regulatory framework to work within, which commands both the support of the public and the research community.
Guidance on the Operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. HC 321, March 2000. London: The Stationery Office*.
The RCVS Code of Professional Conduct. Supporting Guidance, Chapter 24*.
[*These documents have still to be updated to reflect changes to the ASPA from the beginning of this year]
Laboratory Animals Veterinary Association. www.lava.uk.net
Laboratory Animal Science Association. www.lasa.co.uk
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