British Veterinary Association (BVA) president Simon Doherty has championed the vital work of vets in Northern Ireland and called for "urgent action" to guard against a serious shortfall in workforce capacity following Brexit.

The call in his speech at BVA’s Annual Northern Ireland Dinner came amid growing concerns about how withdrawal from the European Union may impact on vets working in Northern Ireland, especially in the event of a 'no-deal' Brexit.

The 90 guests at Stormont included MLAs, DAERA permanent secretary Denis McMahon and Northern Ireland’s chief veterinary officer Robert Huey, as well as key representatives from animal health and welfare organisations and colleagues from across the veterinary profession.

Brexit veterinary shortages

If no agreement is reached, Doherty warned there could be a surge in demand for veterinary checks on animals and animal products at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

He explained that the workforce will be stretched further if more vets are required to carry out rabies vaccination and testing under more stringent pet travel requirements.

He said that because the UK was so reliant on veterinary expertise from the EU it was important the profession was added to the country's Shortage Occupation List.

Doherty said: “A no-deal scenario could pose huge problems in terms of the increased demand on veterinary capacity both north and south of the border.

"With no agreed ‘backstop’ in place, we could see a surge in demand for border checks on animals and animal products in order to comply with World Trade Organisation requirements.

We are seeking urgent clarification on what this means for the workforce as well as the current straightforward system for transporting companion, competitive and farm animals between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The BVA president also warned that Northern Ireland could face shortages of vets in some areas after Brexit, as a high proportion of its workforce comes from the Republic of Ireland and further afield in the EU.

Shortage Occupation List

He said: “With the workforce so highly reliant on EU vets, we’re concerned that Brexit will bring restrictions on movement between roles and impose extra bureaucracy and costs on the vital recruitment of skilled workers.

“We’re very fortunate to have some fantastic EU vets who have come to work in Northern Ireland, and it’s incumbent on us all to make sure that the status quo is maintained.

If you take one thing away with you today, please support and share our calls for vets to be reinstated on the Shortage Occupation List.

"This would give a critical vote of confidence in the veterinary workforce and the multiple benefits it realises, and help to safeguard against a crisis in capacity after Brexit.”

Later in the speech, Doherty praised the cross-sector work underway in Northern Ireland both to research and protect against diseases, and to tackle the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance in both animal and human health.

He went on to praise the work of STAMP (Strategic Antimicrobial use in dairy, beef and lamb Production) project, which is bringing together vets, farmers, processors and wider industry to work towards ambitious UK targets for reducing antimicrobial usage in farm animals.

He said: “Whenever Northern Ireland gets its teeth into a health issue a huge amount can be achieved thanks to the small but strong networks in place. We will look forward to seeing the strategy and the outputs from the project in due course.”