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A congress apart

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LIKE many veterinary conferences and congresses, the London Vet Show, to be held from November 17 to 18 this year at the ExCeL centre in London's Docklands, features a wide range of CPD for practising vets. However, for all the other CPD opportunities that will be available, what sets it apart from other events is the ‘political’ element provided by the BVA Congress, which, for the past few years, has been incorporated into the show. In 2014, the BVA Congress saw the launch of the RCVS/BVA Vet Futures project, which set out to identify challenges facing the veterinary profession and develop a strategy for the future. The programme for this year's congress builds on some of the themes identified during that project while also considering some issues of more immediate concern.

There are few topics of more immediate concern than antimicrobial resistance, as highlighted most recently by the O'Neill report on tackling drug-resistant infections (VR, May 21, 2016, vol 178, pp 514, 515-516). Among other things, this recommended that countries should set targets aimed at reducing antibiotic use in livestock and fish, a recommendation that Defra has said it will implement in the UK (VR, June 18, 2016, vol 178, pp 623-624). To preserve their efficacy, antimicrobials need to be used responsibly in people and animals, and global action is necessary. A congress debate will consider what needs to change at a global level, and what this means for industry and the veterinary profession in the UK.

A session on the future of the pet insurance market promises to be equally topical, not least following the decision by the RSA Insurance Group to establish a ‘preferred referral network’ of practices to which pets insured under its policies might be referred for treatment. In a structured debate, representatives of a number of insurance providers, including the RSA Group, will give their perspectives on what the future might hold for pet insurance in the UK and how the veterinary profession should prepare for it.

The Vet Futures project identified being ‘a leading force for animal welfare’ as a key ambition for the veterinary profession and a number of congress sessions will reflect this theme. Earlier this year, the Food Standards Agency launched a report called ‘Our food future’ as part of a project aimed at initiating debate about what UK consumers want from food in the light of global production challenges. Issues such as sustainability, safety, environmental impact and waste were highlighted in the report, but animal welfare didn't feature. As well as giving an update on the project, a session at the congress will consider how vets can contribute in this area, not only in the delivery of safe and healthy food, but also in trying to make sure that animal welfare gets the attention it deserves.

Companion animal welfare will feature in a debate entitled ‘Two paws forward, one paw back: are we making any progress on pedigree dog health?’. Meanwhile, an interactive session called ‘Practise what you preach: are vets doing all they can to champion animal welfare?’ will explore the extent to which veterinary surgeons are applying the ethical advice they might give to their clients in the choices they make for themselves. In the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture at the congress, Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at the University of Bristol, will reflect on our relationship with animals and how animal welfare science has improved our ability to assess their interests.

Another ambition identified by the Vet Futures project was to achieve a profession that is ‘confident, resilient and well supported’. With concern about mental health and wellbeing in the veterinary profession being high on the agenda, a debate on building resilience will consider whether current approaches to veterinary education could in fact be contributing to the problem.

At practice level, a congress session will look at how the application of checklists and other approaches adopted in the human medical field might be applied in the veterinary field to help overcome human error and improve patient outcomes. Meanwhile, another session will consider how reference to Google and other information sources is affecting veterinary surgeons' relationships with their clients and how best to respond to this. Further reflecting life in the digital age, a session on ‘big data’ will look at changing approaches to disease surveillance in both the farm and companion animal sectors, and what this will mean for the future.

Politics often seem far removed from the everyday realities of veterinary practice but they tend to affect it nevertheless. The BVA Congress at the London Vet Show provides an opportunity to catch up on what is happening and be in a position to prepare for what might lie ahead.

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