“The shortage of vets in rural practice is going to significantly worsen”, given the age profile and bias of younger vets in urban areas, the Working Group for Reform in Irish Veterinary Education has warned.
The group, which has been advocating for establishing a second veterinary school in the state since November 2021, appeared before a sitting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on Wednesday, May 24th, 2023.
Liam Moriarty MVB, Jimmy Quinn MVB, MSc, MRCVS and Ian Fleming MVB, MRCVS, made a submission to the committee on behalf of the group.
During the meeting, the group highlighted that the establishment of a second veterinary school in the state has “long been called for by those of us in the profession to address the chronic shortage of places available to study veterinary medicine as well as the undersupply of veterinary talent in Ireland, particuarly in rural areas”.
The group pointed to data from the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI), which shows that approximately 75% of new vet registrants are graduating overseas.
The three members also provided an analysis of new registrants in Ireland from 2001-2022 in respect of new UCD entries, Irish entries, not UCD and non-Irish entries, not UCD.
Ian Fleming MVB, MRCVS, member of the Working Group for Reform in Irish Veterinary Education, told the meeting:
“There are a huge number of job advertisements for vets out there, including on the Veterinary Ireland Journal, and they tend to be dragging.”
“I can tell you that the reality of that came home to bite me about two years ago when we put in an ad for a replacement for me to do night and weekend work because I reached that stage of my career.”
“And suddenly, I found that it took 15 months to find a vet that was willing to step in and do that. That would be considered probably a short enough period of time to wait for a replacement.”
“There is a huge problem in terms of actually getting vets,” he told the meeting.
“There are approximately 600 Irish students abroad studying veterinary, so that is 120 per year for five years. We are getting 60 or so back, which is slightly over half because there might be a fall-out of a few over there.”
“We have a brain drain straight away as we are losing half of the Irish vet students who go aboard; they never return to the country. This would be based on averages over a period of years.”
“Then, on the graph also, you have non-Irish natives, who were educated abroad, who come in to make up the shortfall. Yet, still, we have a shortfall and still have 70-90 ads in the veterinary magazine every month because that is the reality on the ground.”
“We still have people in remote areas who cannot find someone, and people with small animal practices are struggling to get a replacement or to expand their practices for the same reason.”
Ageing profile of vets
Fleming pointed to a report from the CCPC, which in 2008, produced a report on professions in Ireland, including veterinary practitioners.
In the publication, the body pointed to several issues, one of which was an ageing profile in the veterinary industry.
According to Fleming, they “raised a red flag on the basis” that 14% of the vets on the register were over 55 years of age, whereas currently, on average, 18% of vets on the register are over 60 years of age.
“I looked at taking the averages from the counties and found that the Munster area generally, in particular, is well above the average, with 20-22% of vets over the age of 60 and, in Tipperary’s case, 23%.”
“There is a huge issue out there, and this issue was brought home to me by a colleague who works in a town in Kerry, who told me that there are five individual practices in that town.”
“One of the vets is in his 80s, two are in their 70s, one is in his 60s, and one is in his 50s.”
“There is a real issue there, and this relates to our food industry because, with that sort of vulnerability, we do not know if one of them suffers ill health, who is going to replace them?” he added.
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