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Shaping the future

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THE launch of the Vet Futures project during the BVA Congress at the London Vet Show last week is an exciting development which, at a time when veterinary activity seems subject to numerous outside forces, provides an opportunity for the profession to shape its own future. There can be no doubt that changes taking place both within the profession and in society as a whole present challenges for the profession. The aim of the project, a joint initiative by the RCVS and the BVA, is to identify what those challenges are and, more importantly, what to do about them.

The project is being led and funded by the RCVS and the BVA, but the intention is that it should be a collaborative venture, drawing on the experience and insight of a wide range of individuals and organisations, including veterinary surgeons and nurses, veterinary bodies, farmers, pet owners and other interested parties. As the two organisations explain, it ‘will help understand where the provision of veterinary services is currently heading, whether this is in the best interests of the profession, animal owners and the public at large, and what might be done to shape an optimal future for the veterinary team, keeping animal health and welfare at its heart’.

The first phase of the project will be an information gathering exercise in which an independent research company will gather evidence via focus groups, telephone interviews and desk-based research, as well as gauging opinion through events, the internet and social media. There will then be an ‘engagement phase’, where the profession will be asked to give feedback on some initial thoughts, followed by a period of analysis during which the independent researchers will produce a report. Finally, there will be an ‘action phase’, during which key strategic issues will be identified, together with a plan of action for the BVA and the RCVS, as well as other organisations and individuals. A website outlining the aims of the project and how it will be conducted has already gone live at www.vetfutures.org.uk and more information will be added, and views sought, as the project proceeds. The aim is to have an action plan in place by 2015.

With the veterinary profession and the world in which it operates currently changing particularly rapidly, the initiative is certainly timely, and should help to ensure that the profession remains sustainable and relevant. As the RCVS President, Stuart Reid, remarked at the launch, ‘The RCVS is implementing a programme of reform to make it a first-rate regulator, but how do we also make ours a first-rate profession that is resilient and agile enough to meet future demands?’. The project, he explained, ‘will not just be about horizon scanning, but getting a fix on those issues over the horizon that we may not yet have considered, such as the use of emerging technologies.’ He looked forward to all members of the veterinary team getting involved so that, ‘together, we can develop an action plan that will deliver a sustainable future for the profession.’

The BVA President, John Blackwell, commented that it was no secret that the veterinary profession was changing rapidly, which was why he had chosen ‘driving change and shaping the future’ as the theme for his presidential year. ‘It is essential that we come together to map out where we want to be as a strong and trusted profession and identify how we can make that happen,’ he said.

That things are indeed changing fast has been illustrated by numerous developments over the past 12 months, many of which have been documented in these pages. They include, for example, changes in the structure of companion animal practice (VR, November 16, 2013, vol 173, p 460), which was also the subject of a supplement to Veterinary Record published in January 20141; changes in the farm animal sector and in the working relationship between private practitioners and government (VR, July 19, 2014, vol 175, p 54); and the changing demographics of the profession in terms of numbers (VR, October 11, 2014, vol 175, p 336) and gender (VR, November 1, 2014, vol 175, p 412). The effects of some of these changes were reflected in the results of the latest RCVS survey of the profession, which were published in September (VR, September 27, 2014, vol 175, p 288). They were also discussed in some of the debates at the BVA Congress at the London Vet Show last week, reports of which will be published in Veterinary Record over the next few weeks. The speed and wide-ranging nature of the changes taking place leave little room for doubt that now is the time for the profession to look to the future and decide on the direction it can most usefully take.

The UK veterinary profession is not alone in thinking about the future. A workforce study by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in 2013 found that supply of veterinarians in the USA was exceeding demand for their services, although it was also suggested that this wasn't an oversupply problem as such; rather, veterinary capacity, and veterinary skills, were underused (VR, May 4, 2013, vol 172, pp 460, 462). This followed a report from the US National Academy of Sciences which, in 2012, had expressed concern about the sustainability of the veterinary profession and the need for it to evolve to meet changing demands. This argued that there were areas of ‘unmet need’ for veterinarians to which the profession could usefully contribute more in the future, including research, public service, food security and production, and One Health (VR, June 30, 2012, vol 170, p 656). More recently, such concerns have resulted in the AVMA producing educational material for school children, in the form of a comic book, emphasising the wide variety of roles that vets can fulfil (VR, August 16/23, 2014, vol 175, p 156).

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