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Where should veterinary nursing go?
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  1. Adele Waters

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This is the central question that a new task force made up of members of the BVA and the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) is seeking to answer.

Their aim is to tear up existing expectations and come up with a best-case scenario – if there was no legislative bar what could a vet nurse role look like and deliver?

One of the key aims of the task force is to come up with a definition of veterinary nursing. Bizarrely, perhaps, no such definition exists and vet nurses have come to rely on the human field for a statement about their identity. Both the BVA and the BVNA believe the vet nursing profession deserves its own.

Beyond a definition, the task force will also consider how the profession can move beyond the idea of ‘just becoming mini-vets’.

There is sensitivity here since recent years have seen a focus on vet recruitment and retention challenges and nurses have been seen as part of that solution.

But task force members have already rejected this notion and instead will aim to spell out a greater ambition – to create a vision for vet nursing as a distinct profession, with distinct responsibilities.

You might be forgiven for being a tad cynical here since recent years have seen a sharper focus on nursing and its future direction but there has been little material change in terms of what vet nurses can do or how they can advance their roles and careers.

A new royal charter in 2015 recognised veterinary nursing as a profession for the first time, and that same year VN Futures was launched, aiming to develop a vision and ambitions for the profession by 2020.

The past couple of years have seen the RCVS role out a specific programme of activity around Schedule 3 – the exemption to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 that allows registered or student veterinary nurses to carry out some limited veterinary procedures.

Two years ago its survey of vet professionals found widespread confusion about what nurses could and couldn’t do under the exemption and, to counter that, it went on to publish a suite of case studies to explain how to work within Schedule 3. This month it will send out a poster to all UK practices to guide vets and nurses on appropriate delegation (see page 616).

So while good work is going on here, nurses are probably as confused as they ever were about where the limit of their practice falls. Can they squeeze dogs’ anal glands? was a recent debate question. The answer is yes, but our mini Twitter poll last week found 23 per cent of professionals disagree.

Fresh legislation is required to legitimately extend the vet nurse role but progress is slow here. An RCVS working party set up in 2016 to examine how to reform Schedule 3 has now been subsumed into its Legislation Working Party, which will conduct a wide-ranging review of the all relevant legislation and set recommendations for government ‘in due course’.

However, while we wait for legislative opportunity, the professions must be ready with their joint recommendations. And in the meantime, there are things that the profession can do to promote and advance the role of nurses.

First, they can ensure that nursing work is never given away for free. It also means charging the same fee for a procedure irrespective if it is carried out by a nurse or a vet.

Vets need to promote nurses as co-professionals

And, second, vets need to promote nurses as co-professionals. This means explicitly recognising the nursing contribution so clients begin to understand that nurses don’t just clip toenails and clean cages – they also save lives (see page 615).

The task force is a good opportunity for the professions to work together to galvanise a realistic vision for vet nursing and the roadmap to get there. For that reason, it is welcomed and this journal looks forward to publishing its findings.

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