Section 2 – Future challenges
There are several challenges and pressures that will need to be addressed to enable effective delivery of animal health and welfare services in the future.
10.1 Following devolution in 2000 there has been a gradual divergence of animal health and welfare policy in Scotland which is likely to continue and possibly accelerate post Brexit. SG has a track record of working closely with industry as exemplified by the current BVD eradication program and, in the absence of bovine tuberculosis, is likely to continue to focus on the control of endemic diseases impacting on the livestock industries within Scotland. Animal health and welfare operations are likely to have an increasingly significant role in contributing to wider SG policies such as climate change where challenging targets have been agreed in Scotland. The control of endemic diseases, to improve the efficiency of production, and the prevention/control of exotic disease incursions can make an important contribution to the climate change agenda.
11 Brexit and international trade
11.1 The success of Scotland as an exporting country is determined by the quality of its products and the confidence that other countries have in Scotland's animal health and, increasingly, animal welfare standards and their enforcement. As we move to a post Brexit era it is likely that there will be an increase in trade to non-EU countries. Scotland will need to ensure that it is engaged at a UK level to ensure that its interests are represented in future trade arrangements. The ability to trade with the EU and this wider market will be enhanced by a high health and welfare status supported by excellent surveillance systems and robust assurance, regulatory and enforcement structures. Future animal health and welfare operational delivery arrangements will have an important role in maintaining confidence in Scottish livestock and food production.
11.2 Post Brexit there may be implications for animals moving to and from Northern Ireland depending on the final deal negotiated with the EU. This could involve further checks at the Scottish ports involved in this trade.
11.3 Another possible impact could be the effect of Brexit on the size and structure of the Scottish livestock industries. This in turn could have implications for the level of animal health and welfare operational services required.
11.4 The creation of an SVS could add complexity to the narrative that the UK develops to provide assurance to trading partners that it is compliant with WTO rules, meets OIE standards and is addressing individual country requirements. This is not unprecedented in that Northern Ireland currently has its own animal health and welfare organisation but would need active management to mitigate risk.
11.5 Access to EU national veterinarians may be restricted post Brexit. APHA, and FSS, currently rely heavily on recruiting foreign graduates to fill posts within Scotland.
12.1 Farming, including the livestock industries, makes an important contribution to GDP in Scotland. Between 2012 and 2018 this contribution was between 20 and 40% greater in Scotland than the UK average. In some of the more remote areas of Scotland agricultural output is far more significant to the local economies and is a major contributor to sustaining these fragile communities.
12.2 Scotland also faces significant climatic and geographical challenges for example 85% of Scotland is classified as Less Favoured Area which is unsuitable for arable production but where livestock farming is a viable option. That and its relative isolation have resulted in Scottish industry pursuing premium markets for animal products as the additional costs of production and transportation make commodity markets unviable.
12.3 To support access to premium markets Scotland has a long history of implementing robust assurance schemes which deliver standards above the legal minimum requirements. It has also developed strong branding for Scottish products including acquiring PGI status for Scotch Beef and Lamb. This approach is underpinned through the provision of consistent, accurate livestock health advice through commercial and publicly supported channels including 'Monitor' farms. Possible changes to trading patterns and opportunities post Brexit are likely to increase the importance of this work. Animal health and welfare services in Scotland are likely to play an important role in collaborating with other organisations in Scotland to deliver increasingly challenging health and welfare standards to support market access.
13 Recruitment and retention of staff
13.1 Over the last few years recruitment and retention has become an increasing challenge for APHA in Scotland resulting in a significant turnover of veterinary, technical and administrative staff which has undoubtedly had a negative impact on capability. State veterinary medicine is a specialised field in which expertise takes years to develop. Similarly, Animal Health Officers undertake a wide range of duties which require significant training and development. The constant churn of staff is wasteful in terms of the continual training resource required and reduces capability across the organisation. It has also resulted in the recruitment of staff with limited, if any, practical, clinical and diagnostic experience. This presents a real risk to operational effectiveness particularly in any response to a disease incursion. This concern is exacerbated in that there are few experienced staff remaining within the organisation with the capability and experience to train new entrants and these staff are approaching retirement age. Consequently, the window of opportunity to capture this experience is short.
13.2 It should be recognised that recruitment of staff in remote areas is a challenge both for private practitioners and other government departments including the FSS. There is a multiplicity factors that contribute to the challenges of recruitment and retention. Recent surveys by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) indicate that job satisfaction and worthwhile work are key drivers. Feedback from APHA operations staff is positive in this respect with staff recognising the importance of and being genuinely passionate about the work they undertake. However, the work is often challenging both emotionally and physically. Staff can feel isolated and support mechanisms are required for staff involved in stressful tasks such as mass culling and serious animal welfare cases.
13.3 Pay and lack of pay progression and career opportunities have been repeatedly cited as significant contributory factors. Veterinary Inspectors are now recruited at a lower Senior Executive Officer (SEO) grade and therefore salary than the previous Veterinary Officer grade (equivalent to Grade 7). This is unattractive for veterinarians most of whom have significant student loans to repay. The lack of progression and the perceived unfairness of the disparity of pay with VOs has had a negative impact on many VI's. AHOs also face challenges in servicing student loans from the salaries that they receive.
13.4 The lack of training and development has also been raised as a concern by staff which can lead to frustration and decreased morale. In some examples this deficiency has contributed to a decision to leave the organisation.
13.5 Over the past decade there has been an increasing reliance on recruitment of non-UK veterinary graduates most of whom come from EU countries. Whilst these staff have the appropriate veterinary training, they often have little knowledge of Scottish livestock farming systems which can negatively affect stakeholder perception.
13.6 A recent report assessed the significant economic value of the veterinary profession in Scotland whilst also highlighting the challenges outlined above. A change to the structure of field delivery services in Scotland could help to strengthen the sustainability of the profession in Scotland.
13.7 Addressing the issue of recruitment and retention will be a priority both for APHA and, if created, an SVS as without stability it is not possible to develop the capability required to effectively manage the multiplicity of tasks within animal health and welfare operations.
14 New technologies
14.1 Recent years have seen rapid advances in diagnostic capabilities with molecular diagnostics producing rapid results and whole genome sequencing providing greater insights into the epidemiology of animal and zoonotic disease. Pen side testing has also advanced and is a tool utilised by other countries allowing rapid provisional diagnosis which can speed up response times. The use of pen side testing must always be followed up with the appropriate reference laboratory testing as this provides the definitive result. Such technologies are expensive to develop and have potential trade implications and consequently, there is advantage in retaining a co-ordinated approach to both investment and prioritisation in this field.
14.2 IT and mobile phone technology advances enable remote consideration of suspect exotic disease cases. Whilst this does not replace the need for proper laboratory follow up it does allow, possibly in conjunction with pen side testing, support to be provided to the investigating officer and risk assessment of the likelihood of a response being required. The hours gained through this approach could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the ensuing response.
14.3 IT capability also has the potential to allow for remote working which may assist staff unable to relocate to progress their career within the animal health and welfare delivery sphere.
14.4 The use of syndromic surveillance has also produced opportunities for improved understanding of endemic disease distribution and prevalence, early identification of incursions of exotic disease, the identification of new diseases and can also provide useful data to support country freedom claims for trade. The challenge for the future is how best to harness this capability to provide useful data and to manage the risks of unsubstantiated reports of diseases that can impact on trade.
14.5 Social media has become an increasingly important communication tool particularly in emergency responses including those involving animal disease. When used well it can have positive impacts on how the public perceives the quality of the response. The government in Queensland has been very effective at using this media and has received widespread recognition for the quality of its communication during emergencies. To maximise the effective use of social media considerable investment, preparation and continuity of use are required. Due to the not inconsiderable costs of providing a social media facility consideration of co-ordination with the wider Scottish Government emergency response capability should be considered.
14.6 The harnessing of new technologies is often challenging and expensive but also provides solutions to some very real problems which impact on the efficient delivery of operations services. Keeping abreast of developments and implementing appropriate technologies will be an ongoing challenge for the service over the coming years.