Pigeon Post: Ian Neville writes from the UK

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeon’s RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Professions 2014 was published online in September. According to the RCVS it provides a ‘snapshot of the current state of the veterinary and veterinary nursing professions.’ The four-yearly survey was carried out by the independent Institute for Employment Studies and collated responses from 6,988 RCVS registered veterinary surgeons (27 per cent of the profession) and 3,612 registered/listed veterinary nurses (31 per cent of the profession) across a wide range of work related issues.

Naturally different conclusions about the status of the professions can be drawn depending on the reader’s standpoint, but the results do clarify the actuality underlying some widely held perceptions. For instance the continued ‘feminisation’ of the veterinary profession as for the first time the number of female questionnaire respondents (53.8 per cent) exceeded the number of males. Mixed animal practice continues to decline (employing 15.8 per cent of respondents in 2014, down from 22.1 per cent in 2010) – seemingly at the expense of small animal practice (which rose from 48.9 per cent to 53.6 per cent in the same period). Part-time working is on the increase from 14 per cent in 2006 to 19 per cent in 2014; female vets account for 73.2 per cent of part-timers. The survey seems to confirm concerns about excessive domestic production of graduates and immigration of vets from the EU. The eighth UK vet school opened in 2012 at the University of Surrey and the universities of Aberystwyth in Wales and Ulster in Northern Ireland intend to do the same. The survey confirmed it is now taking new graduates longer to find their first job. In 2010 13.6 per cent were unable to find a position straight away, in 2014 that has risen to 17.8 per cent and it takes an average of 3 months to find a first position. Dedicated out-of-hours service provision operates in 34.7 per cent of respondents workplaces, up from 25.6 per cent in 2010. Over 80 per cent of respondents said they achieve job satisfaction but almost 90 per cent found their work stressful. There was dissatisfaction with pay and conditions and concern about escalating client expectations.

Results from veterinary nurses revealed a decrease in full-time working from 74.7 per cent in 2010 to 67 per cent this year. They are more positive about their profession than they were in 2010 but poor pay and stress are still issues. The provision of CPD has changed, in 2008 84 per cent was funded by the employer but this has fallen to 43 per cent this year with an increased uptake of free CPD instead.

Another survey, commissioned by the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) from the University of Glasgow, also released in September appears to substantiate the perception that equine veterinary practice is a potentially dangerous occupation. If the results received from the 620 equine vet respondents can be reliably extrapolated nationwide it appears that equine vets have the highest risk of injury of any civilian occupation in the UK – riskier than working in the police, prison or fire service or construction! Over a 30 year career an equine vet could be expected to sustain 7-8 injuries which prevented them from working. The most common causes were hind limb kicks (49 per cent), forelimb kicks (11 per cent) and crush injuries (5 per cent). A quarter of the reported injuries required hospital admission and 7 per cent involved loss of consciousness. The riskiest procedures were found to be endoscopic examination of the airway, wound management and bandage changes. Most injuries (48 per cent) occurred when the horse handler assisting the vet was also the owner/client. Few laypersons or handlers were injured at the same time as the unfortunate vet.

As the UK’s veterinary regulatory body, the RCVS frequently deals with complaints about vets’ or vet nurses’ fitness to practise and has statutory power to impose punishments when culpability is established. However, it has often been unable to resolve lesser complaints from the public about levels of service provision that do not raise disciplinary questions. In order to address this and in response to incoming European Union legislation the college has just launched a six month trial of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process. The ADR trial will apply to only 150 small animal complaints and aims to reach resolution through conciliation not arbitration, any settlements will be proposed, not imposed. The trial is free to users and will be only proceed in cases where both parties are in agreement. Solutions available through ADR will include compensation up to £10,000 (A$ 17,950), issuing of apologies or any other applicable practical action. The trial costs have been limited to £120,000 (A$ 215,360). If the trial is deemed to be successful in quickly resolving intractable disputes a permanent scheme will be introduced.
IAN NEVILLE