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A different kind of congress

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THIS year's BVA Congress, which will take place in London later this month, promises to be very different from the congresses of recent years. First, it is being held in conjunction with the London Vet Show (LVS) and will therefore be part of a bigger affair which, with its combination of a large commercial exhibition and CPD, has quickly become a popular fixture in the veterinary calendar. As well as a Careers Fair, the BVA will be contributing equine and farm animal CPD streams to the event; aimed at mixed practitioners, these will extend the breadth of the CPD programme at the LVS, which until now has focused mainly on small animals. Despite these and other changes, ‘contentious issues’ debates and the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture have long been essential elements of the BVA Congress, and these will again be central to the proceedings.

There can be few topics more contentious at the moment than the question of how many vets and veterinary schools we need. On the one hand, concern has been expressed that plans for new veterinary schools could lead to ‘over-production’ of vets and declining educational standards (see, for example, VR, November 2, 2013, vol 173, p 406, pp 416-417). On the other, there is concern that the need for veterinary expertise to be applied more widely in helping to meet disease and other global challenges is not currently being fulfilled. A congress debate will consider what, if any, kind of balance can be achieved, while highlighting areas where veterinary skills are needed.

Animal welfare features prominently in the contentious issues programme, with all species being covered. A debate on food assurance schemes will consider the extent to which such schemes can help improve farm animal welfare, and whether they could do more. A debate called ‘Equine welfare: class matters!’ will look at the different categories of horses, from feral ponies through to elite thoroughbreds, and the specific challenges they present to vets. Meanwhile, a session called ‘Exotic pets – is there a problem?’ will examine some of the issues surrounding keeping ‘exotic’ animals as pets, whether their welfare needs are being met and, given the particular requirements of different species, whether some of them should be kept at all.

As far as some of the more mainstream companion animals are concerned, there is, in what is supposed to be ‘a nation of animal lovers’, often a mismatch between pet owners’ apparent concern for their animals and how they actually behave. Responsible pet ownership will be the subject of two debates at the congress: one will address ways of influencing client behaviour; the other will ask whether tighter regulation is needed, or whether the answer lies in better education.

Regulation of vets themselves will be the subject of another debate, entitled ‘Trust me, I'm a vet’. Not so long ago, vets and other professionals were treated as such and allowed to get on with the job. Now it seems they are increasingly entangled by red tape. This debate will consider whether things have improved as a result of increased regulation, or whether it is inhibiting the care and services that might otherwise be provided.

Few would disagree that animals should be treated on the basis of sound scientific evidence. A debate on evidence-based veterinary medicine aims to determine whether the profession is in a position to deliver the level of evidence required.

A debate called ‘So much to do, not enough time’ will ask whether a good work-life balance is achievable in difficult economic times, giving both an employer's and an employee's perspective. In what could be regarded as a related session, speakers will discuss ways of preventing and alleviating stress.

Eight years ago now Veterinary Record and the BMJ published joint issues exploring the links between human and animal health 1,2. It would be an overstatement to suggest that things have since moved on apace, but the One Health concept seems to have gained some traction of late, as evidenced, perhaps, by the recent UK strategy on antimicrobial resistance and presentations at the World Veterinary Association congress (VR, September 28, 2013, vol 173, p 278). Giving the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture at the BVA Congress this year, Fiona Godlee, editor of the BMJ, will discuss how, in an increasingly interconnected world, we cannot ignore the interdependency between animal and human health, and explore some of the challenges that vets and doctors face.

The contentious issues programme also features a question and answer session involving the four chief veterinary officers of the UK. With changes to the training and procurement arrangements for Official Veterinarians, new approaches to disease surveillance, increased pet travel and the continuing challenge of bovine TB, there should be no shortage of things to talk about. The BVA Congress will be a different kind of event this year, but debates to which everyone can contribute will still be a core element.

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