The UK’s vet workforce crisis is deepening as EU registrant numbers have dropped by over two-thirds since Brexit.
Data from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) reveals that the annual number of registrants coming to work in the UK fell by 68% from 1132 in 2019 to just 364 in 2021.
The data has prompted the British Veterinary Association (BVA) to highlight a storm of shortages.
The body has warned that this drop, which it has attributed in part to the end of free movement and the impacts of the pandemic, could result in “wide-ranging” direct and knock-on impacts across the sector, especially in areas such as international trade and public health.
The new figures sit “uneasily” against separate statistics. They demonstrate how demand for veterinary certification of animal products for export to the EU has “rocketed” in the face of new post-Brexit requirements.
Information from the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) suggest that applications for food-related export health certificates (products of animal origin and livestock) spiralled by 1255 per cent from 2020 (22,990 in total) to the end of 2021 (288,558).
According to the body, this is likely to be an underestimation of the extra workload for vets.
It stated the data exclude:
- Orders of equine and pet certificates;
- Movements to Northern Ireland;
- Cases where multiple certificates are covered in one request.
Furthermore, the body said this also fails to illustrate the total cost to businesses that have to meet the costs underpinning these new requirements.
The association stressed that the UK’s veterinary workforce is “highly” reliant on EU registrants.
RCVS data from 2021 indicates that 29% of the total existing workforce graduated in the EU. In 2019,
RCVS data suggested that nearly half of new registrants (48%) graduated in the EU. This is compared to 42% graduating in the UK (10% in third countries).
The veterinary profession and the government introduced measures aimed at mitigating against shortages, including:
- Modifying language testing requirements;
- Introducing a new certification support officer role to work under the direction of official veterinarians;
- Opening up new vet schools and course places to boost homegrown supply.
James Russell, BVA Senior Vice President, said:
“The nosedive in EU registrants since Brexit, coupled with soaring demand for veterinary certification, is creating a storm of shortages in the profession.”
“It is critical that vets get as much support as possible to keep on top of workloads and navigate continued challenges ahead. We know that the government is alive to the situation.”
He said that measures such as more vet school places and better digitisation of the certification process would help to relieve “some pressures” in the long term.
Continuing, Russell said: “Vets are working incredibly hard. However, it is still an uphill struggle to comfortably cover all the work currently required.”
“Moving some vets around to plug the gaps is just robbing Peter to pay Paul. It can lead to issues with backfilling roles in other areas which desperately need to keep staffing levels up, such as large animal work.
“The potential consequences are worrying. If we can’t find long-term solutions to veterinary workforce shortages, we will see impacts on animal welfare, public health, and international trade.”
The BVA has stressed “no single silver bullet” solution exists to solve the vet crisis.
Lastly, it stated that the following factors have exacerbated the issue:
- “Multiple” impacts of Brexit and Covid-19;
- A surge in pet ownership;
- Longstanding recruitment and retention challenges in the profession.