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Fundamental changes

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THE AHVLA is currently running an online consultation on its plans to reform the training, appointment and assurance of Official Veterinarians (OVs). The proposed changes are significant – the AHVLA describes them as ‘really fundamental changes to the way the Government will interact with vets, veterinary practices and other veterinary-related businesses in the future’ – so quite a number of people may want to respond. If so, there is a need to act quickly, because, having been announced on October 9, the consultation is scheduled to close on October 21.

The AHVLA confirmed its intention to change the OV arrangements in July this year, when it announced both that it would be introducing a process of competitive tendering to procure the services of private practitioners to carry out TB testing and other OV activities on behalf of the state, and that it would be changing the arrangements for OV training (VR, August 3, 2013, vol 173, p 103; August 10, 2013, vol 173, p 128). The rationale for the changes was discussed by the AHVLA's veterinary director, Simon Hall, in a subsequent article in Veterinary Record (VR, August 17/24, 2013, vol 173, pp 155-156). The consultation currently taking place deals mainly with the training arrangements; the arrangements for tendering for the provision of TB testing and other services have still to be clarified and, as the BVA President pointed out in a speech in Cardiff last month, remain of considerable concern to many in the profession (VR, October 5, 2013, vol 173, pp 303-304).

As outlined in July, the new training arrangements will see the current OV panels being replaced by a modular ‘certificate of competence’ that will be available to any individual vet. The certificate will be gained through accredited training and assessment, and will be periodically revalidated. The qualification is intended to be fully portable between employers, and vets (or their employers) will be expected to pay for their own training. Training and assessment will be the responsibility of a single AHVLA-authorised provider, which the agency also plans to appoint by competitive tender. It hopes to introduce the new arrangements within the next year.

The consultation takes the form of an online questionnaire, which is available on the AHVLA's website.1 The questionnaire gives some background to the changes, as well as describing the proposed training arrangements, which were also discussed in a question and answer document produced by the AHVLA in July.2 The certificate will comprise a prerequisite ‘essential skills’ module, along with a number of modules covering different types of work. The intention is that the new training arrangements will be more flexible than the current arrangements, and also more accessible, with training available on demand. It is also intended that the training should be affordable. Those interested in OV work will be able to take whichever modules they want to pay for but, the AHVLA explains, there will be no obligation on an OV to carry out statutory work, nor any guarantee of work being allocated to them.

The questions asked cover issues such as the costs of training and assessment, whether the proposed suite of training modules is appropriate, revalidation intervals for different modules, and the practicality of the proposed transitional arrangements. Many of the questions are of the ‘Do you agree?’ variety but, as is often the case with these consultations, the questionnaire offers little in the way of alternatives in the event that you might not. It does, however, provide scope for expanding on answers, as well as for making suggestions – for example, on how practical skills such as tuberculin testing should be assessed.

The AHVLA has already made plain its intention to reform the OV arrangements. The questionnaire is concerned with the specifics of training and, while there is clearly a case for making training more flexible, thought must also be given to the long-term consequences of what is being proposed. For example, while the appointment of a single training provider might, as the AHVLA suggests, bring benefits in terms of consistency of service and economies of scale, will this necessarily be maintained in the future in the absence of market competition? Meanwhile, asking OVs to pay for their own training is likely to result in them focusing on areas which are immediately most useful to them, which, potentially, could lead to fewer OVs being available to help deal with a future national disease outbreak. There must be concern, too, that, with training being outsourced, another point of contact between AHVLA staff and practitioners will be lost.

The changes to the training arrangements are important, but the effects of introducing tendering for TB testing and other services are likely to be much more profound. The AHVLA is not exaggerating when it says the changes in the OV system are ‘really fundamental’. There can be little doubt that the structure of farm animal practice, and the relationship between practitioners and the state, will change significantly as a result.

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