“There is a risk, if we do not get corrective action quickly, to veterinary services being disrupted, particularly in those remote rural areas in Ireland. That is an alarm bell; we need action, and we need it quickly.”
That was the stark warning Ian Fleming MVB, MRCVS, member of the Working Group for Reform in Irish Veterinary Education, issued at the recent sitting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on Wednesday, May 24th, 2023.
The group outlined that the shortage of vets in rural practice will significantly worsen”, given the age profile and bias of younger vets in urban areas.
Veterinary services in Ireland
Fleming told the meeting that out-of-hours is “a big issue because it is a regulation issue”.
“You cannot run or have a veterinary practice without providing out-of-hours services,” he added.
“Even if you are not providing out-of-hours services, you have to direct your clients to where they can, within a reasonable distance, get that service.”
“It is part of the licencing system from the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI). It is in the legislation, and so this is a really big issue, particularly, as I have said, in the rural areas.”
“There are a number of facilities available in urban areas where there is a night service available, and the practitioners, therefore, who are doing the day job are not involved.”
“They are not available in the rural community or farming practice.”
“If you are on-call for the night, or if you are the farmer who has a cow calving in the middle of the night, and you want your vet, the vet is working that day, that night and the following day,” he added.
He told the meeting that sitting on this one is “going to serve nobody well”, as he acknowledged that there is “a lot of work” to be done to change the surround.
But, Fleming believes, the first stepping stone is getting a new vet school started “as quickly as possible”.
He said that is based on merit and the scope of the college to produce enough graduates to “make the course sustainable”.
Graduates in certain areas
Jimmy Quinn MVB, MSc, MRCVS, outlined that there is an issue arising in Ireland at the moment, particularly for practice owners and employers, in securing graduates that will work in certain areas.
“They will choose not to do cattle or equine work, or out-of-hours calls in large animals,” he explained.
“That is causing considerable difficulties in running practice rotas because it creates an uneven share of the work, usually for practice owners.”
A ‘vicious circle’
Liam Moriarty MVB told the sitting that, unfortunately, that could be “a vicious circle” if a practice does not have sufficient staff levels, it may “make that practice less attractive”.
“If you have a rural practice that was five-person and is now a three-person, those three people are covering 24-hours on-call.”
“So, to join that practice is less attractive, so we just need more graduates interested in working in these practices,” he concluded.
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