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Can the UK go global in its search for vets?
  1. Josh Loeb

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There is a clear need to search further afield for vets since UK practices are struggling to recruit and recent figures show the number of EU vets moving to the UK – a workforce we have come to rely on – has flatlined.

The extent to which the UK ‘goes global’ is likely to be determined by the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and how aligned the UK remains to the EU.

But certainly the current system for registering vets is full of anomalies and Brexit provides an opportunity to make it fairer and even to raise standards.

Currently the RCVS registers European vets on the basis of the EU’s directive on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. Under this system it must register anyone recognised as a vet by any of the College’s counterparts in any EU member state.

But there are significant differences across the EU, according to the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE). For example, the vet school at Portugal’s Lisbon Lusofona University failed EAEVE’s accreditation evaluation last year. It now has ‘non-approval’ status, as do several other Portuguese and Spanish institutions. Yet if the RCVS were to refuse to recognise the automatic right of any graduate from one of these non-approved EU universities to practice in the UK, it could be sued.

The RCVS is forced to discriminate in favour of graduates from the EU

The RCVS is therefore forced to discriminate in favour of graduates from the EU, including from non EAEVE-approved institutions, and to discriminate against graduates from institutions outside the EU – even if these happen to have higher standards. Istanbul vet school, for example, has EAEVE approval status, meaning it has been judged as superior to the likes of Lusofona. Yet this carries no weight with the RCVS because the current registration system is based primarily on mutual recognition, not EAEVE standards.

There is another anomaly. Any EU national who is registered as a vet inside the bloc enjoys the right to practice in another member state. The same privilege does not apply to non-EU vets practicing in the EU.

Similarly, there is one rule for EU vets who graduate from RCVS-recognised institutions and another for vets who obtain the same qualifications from the same institutions but who are citizens of non-EU nation states. So an American national who graduates from University College Dublin’s vet school would have to take the statutory examination, while a Lithuanian national who graduated from that same institution would not.

The EU even confers spousal rights to join the register, meaning that if the American graduate were to marry the Lithuanian graduate, then suddenly they would accrue special privileges to automatically join the register.

The College tacitly recognised this unfairness when earlier this year it decided it wished to drop EU rules compelling it to discriminate between vets based on nationality. In future it will aim to pursue an approach rooted primarily in assessment of standards. The RCVS’s thinking appears to be in tune with the government’s desire not to give EU citizens the same preferential treatment over their non-EU counterparts in the UK’s future immigration policy.

Traditionally, a quintet of Anglosphere countries – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the USA – were considered dependable talent pipelines, but the number of new applicants from RCVS-approved institutions in these countries appears to be falling too. Should the UK now look to the world outside of the EU and the Anglosphere?

Creating a greater degree of equality between EU and non-EU institutions and people could potentially help ease the recruitment crisis as it would give the RCVS more leeway about whom to register. However, the change will be unlikely to make recruitment from abroad any easier unless the government agrees to add vets to the Shortage Occupation List. It may theoretically become easier to register vets from places like Turkey and other non-EU countries after Brexit, but if they cannot obtain visas then they will not be available to fill gaps in practices’ rotas.

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