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Shaping up for the future

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WITH so much else to talk about, discussion of Brexit was pretty much off limits during the Vet Futures summit held in London this week. However, the uncertainty created by the outcome of the referendum did serve to emphasise the relevance of the Vet Futures project: with no-one else having a clear idea about what happens next, it becomes all the more important for the veterinary profession to have a plan for shaping its own future.

Vet Futures, a joint initiative of the BVA and RCVS, was launched in 2014 to identify the challenges facing the veterinary profession in the UK and formulate an appropriate strategy (VR, November 29, 2014, vol 175, pp 518, 519-520). In a report called ‘Taking charge of our future’, which was published last November after a year of consultation, the two organisations set out a vision for where the profession might want to be in 15 years' time and made recommendations based on six key ambitions. These related to animal health and welfare, the role of the veterinary profession in society, the health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals, veterinary career opportunities, veterinary business models and provision of services, and veterinary leadership (VR, November 21, 2015, vol 177, pp 502, 503-504). Subsequently, an action group was established to take the recommendations forward (VR, January 23, 2016, vol 178, p 83). The purpose of the summit, which was held at the Royal Veterinary College on July 4, was to launch an action plan developed by the group, showcase some of the work streams identified in the plan and obtain feedback from delegates. It also saw the launch of a VN Futures report, ‘Taking charge of our future together’, which has been developed by the RCVS Veterinary Nurses Council and the British Veterinary Nursing Association, as part of the overall project.

The action plan sets out 24 actions aimed at realising the six ambitions discussed in the Vet Futures report. Some of these, such as developing a more strategic, long-term outlook on research, are quite specific to the recommendations made in the report, while others, such as reviewing outcomes for graduates and developing a veterinary careers hub, relate to several of the recommendations, many of which were interrelated. Education is an important cross-cutting theme, and many of the actions relate to this. The action plan explains the thinking behind each action, discusses the steps that will be taken over the next five years and specifies a timeframe for accomplishing each action. It also specifies who will take the lead on each action. In most cases this will be the RCVS or the BVA, but many other organisations will need to be involved. An important point made in the document, and which was reiterated during the summit meeting this week, is that, while the RCVS and BVA can coordinate much of the activity, success will depend on the full support of the veterinary profession and all the organisations and associations that represent and have a stake in it.

It was not possible to consider all of the proposed actions at the summit meeting, which instead illustrated the approach being taken by focusing on a few of them. Matters discussed included leadership, graduate outcomes, veterinary careers, animal welfare, innovation, reflective practice and ‘veterinary value’. Regarding leadership, the point was made that this is not just relevant to those ‘at the top’, but is something expected of professionals at all levels. The suggestion is that the veterinary profession should develop a leadership programme modelled on that applied in the NHS. On graduate outcomes, it was suggested that there was a need to introduce more flexibility into the veterinary curriculum, improve diversity in the profession, and increase support for recent graduates and, indeed, for veterinarians throughout their careers. There was a need to emphasise the range of career options available to veterinary surgeons other than practice, while not losing sight of the fact that practice remains a worthwhile career option in itself.

Regarding promotion of veterinary value, it was considered important to emphasise all the good things the veterinary profession was doing, and not to get too hung up on negative feedback from a minority of clients or the negative stories that sometimes appeared in the press. The veterinary profession, it was pointed out, remained highly regarded compared with other professions, and it was important to build on this.

Feedback from those attending the meeting was largely supportive of the actions proposed, with many of the comments reflecting concerns highlighted in the Vet Futures report itself. Many of the comments came from students and recent graduates which, given that the project is all about the future, is how it should be. Asked to prioritise actions they considered most important, those present opted for: support for the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative (47 votes); a veterinary leadership programme (39 votes); a UK One Health coordination group (38 votes); an online careers hub (34 votes); animal welfare (32 votes); VN Futures (32 votes); and a review of student recruitment, retention and support (30 votes).

The VN Futures report is an impressive document. Following a similar format to the Vet Futures report, it sets out a vision for the veterinary nursing profession and lists a number of actions based on six key ambitions. The ambitions are: to create a sustainable workforce; ensure that this workforce is confident, resilient, healthy and well supported; develop structured and rewarding career paths; take a proactive role in One Health; maximise veterinary nurses' potential; and clarify and bolster the VN role via a reformed Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act. It is clear from the report and from presentations at the meeting that frustration exists about the opportunities and career paths available to veterinary nurses and that more attention needs to be paid to recruitment, retention and ‘returners’. It also remains important to recognise the unique contribution made by veterinary nurses and place proper value on their role.

With 24 different work streams, the Vet Futures action plan clearly sets out an ambitious programme of work. The plan will no doubt evolve over time as new priorities emerge and circumstances change but, ultimately, the success of the project will depend on the extent to which everyone engages with it and be judged on whether the vision and ambitions set out in the Vet Futures report are realised. Although the implications of the EU referendum result were not specifically discussed at the meeting, concern was expressed that it might affect some of the timescales referred to in the action plan. This would be unfortunate. With Vet Futures, as in so many areas, it will be a pity if the energy that will have to be devoted to Brexit ends up being a barrier to progress.

▪ The Vet Futures report is available at http://vetfutures.org.uk/resource/vet-futures-report. The Vet Futures Action Plan and the VN Futures Report and Action Plan are at http://vetfutures.org.uk/action-plans. Accessed July 6, 2016

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