UK veterinary practices have been warned against exploiting young workers' fears of struggling to find work by offering unpaid or voluntary veterinary roles.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Association of Veterinary Students (AVS) claimed some veterinary practices had been offering unpaid or voluntary veterinary work to final year students and new graduates.

While these offers may seem attractive to newly-qualified vets who want to gain access to veterinary workplaces, the associations said they were concerned such positions devalue fully-qualified veterinary surgeons.

In a statement, they claimed unpaid roles also make it harder for those who can’t afford to work for free to get experience, contradicting efforts to widen participation in the veterinary sector.

In addition, there are governance issues associated with individuals undertaking veterinary roles before they are registered with the RCVS or working without indemnity insurance.

The Veterinary Defence Society (VDS) has advised that the Veterinary Surgeons (Practice by Students) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 allow veterinary students who are attending university to carry out acts of veterinary surgery under the direction and supervision of a veterinary surgeon.

Commenting, BVA president Daniella Dos Santos said: “The Covid-19 crisis has thrown up many challenges for veterinary practices, but we make a plea to the profession not to exploit final year students and new graduates at this difficult time.

"These individuals are professionals and they deserve to be paid professional, new graduate salaries, as we all were.

There is a problem to be solved with regard to safe working, particularly in large animal and equine practice, but underpaying and undervaluing people is not the solution.

“BVA has been working with Vet Schools Council and others to champion diversity in our vet schools and the wider profession. If we only provide opportunities for those who can afford to work for free, we will be taking an enormous step backwards.”

Izzie Arthur, AVS president, added: “We know that final year students are worried about job prospects and that these offers will be attractive, but we are deeply concerned that it devalues the skills and knowledge that have been built up throughout the degree.

“We’re asking vet practices to champion the next generation by providing paid opportunities for newly qualified (registered) vets and the support needed to get through the professional development phase so that they can become valued members of the team.”