Duncan Phillips: The urgent need to overhaul government veterinary support and regulation

February 01, 2024

The veterinary profession is changing fast. 

These are times of evolving customer expectations, surges in pet ownership, ground-breaking treatment innovations, and public concern around vetcare costs. 

This is contributing to the challenge of recruitment and retention, with the global shortage of qualified professionals amplifying practice workload, increasing pressure on practices, impacting mental health, and prompting some to reduce hours or even leave the profession, creating a vicious circle.
Dedicated vets and vet nurses play a pivotal role in the UK’s societal well-being, and economic prosperity, through their daily efforts to protect and promote animal health and welfare, providing crucial support to pet owners, farmers, the government, and all those involved in animal care.  
As a responsible employer, we are proud to champion, and invest in, addressing the major challenges confronting the sector. But to make a truly significant, industry-wide difference, we’re asking Government to help remove some of the barriers to transformative change.

The first request is for the Government to encourage overseas vets and specifically the return of EU vets. The Government announced on 30 January its intent to introduce tougher migration regulation, including removing the occupation shortage discount. If enacted, this will make recruiting overseas vets significantly more difficult and more expensive. The time to act on this is now.

A 2021 RCVS report on recruitment, retention and return found that 53% of new UK-practicing registrants in 2019 were EU-qualified. In just three years that plummeted to 19%.

Alongside changes by the RCVS to increase the frequency and flexibility of the statutory veterinary exam for those with veterinary degrees not accredited by the RCVS, we would like to see reasonable changes in Government restrictions around language requirements for colleagues from abroad.

Our second request is for Government to increase funding for UK universities when it comes to veterinary courses, recognising the vital contributions the profession makes to the country as a whole. 
More young people from diverse backgrounds pursuing exciting and rewarding veterinary careers is vital to addressing the shortages. IVC Evidensia, and the sector as a whole, is doing a great deal of the right things to encourage more towards the profession, including our Ethnic Diversity Scholarship Scheme, EMS bursaries and sponsoring groups such as Animal Aspirations.

But a lack of enough places at UK universities and colleges, despite recent increases, and the lengthy and costly qualifying process, reduces opportunities to become qualified and exacerbates the shortages.
While we fund a number of bursaries and scholarships every year in the UK, and highlight the opportunities in our sector to young people across wide economic and diverse backgrounds, as do others in our industry, additional, focused funding from Government would help remove barriers to more choosing to join this amazing profession. 

The final request is for the existing regulatory framework to be updated to enable vet nurses to expand their roles. 

Vet nurses are highly skilled, trained and accountable, and could be fulfilling a wider scope of clinical tasks. This would mirror significant improvements in holistic care delivery in human healthcare, driven and facilitated by nurses.

An expanded role would enable a broader team approach, enabling vets to focus on more vet-specific procedures, while improving treatment time availability, and increasing job satisfaction for those vet nurses who would choose to do more.

Change for a better future

The veterinary sector has been transforming, with substantial investments in clinic networks, treatment options, and customer service - but the regulatory regime and government approach have simply not kept pace. 

Animal owners expect, and deserve, the most appropriate clinical care from highly qualified professionals who have the time and expertise to deliver it.  

As the largest vet group in the UK, we recognise our responsibility to help enable this transformation, in support of the animals we care for, our clients and our people. 

We’re investing heavily across the board – including in hiring more than 1,000 vets and vet nurses in the last year alone and investing more than £65m in modernising, improving and extending practices, including our brand new, state of the art, £10m Blaise hospital in Birmingham. 
We've enhanced our sick pay policies, with full pay from day one and all staff entitled to two weeks. We've extended eligibility for private medical insurance to also include vet nurses and practice leaders, and introduced a healthcare cash plan for all. We've increased staff salaries and benefits, enhanced our family friendly policies including maternity pay to 90% for six months and paternity pay to four weeks, enhanced our return-to-work bonus, and introduced paid leave for fertility treatment.
We're working to encourage young people into the profession, funding cutting-edge research by our people, developing new digital and practice solutions, reducing our impacts on the environment, and supporting local communities.  

However, we recognise that we cannot do this alone. 

We need the Government to play its part in shaping the law, and providing more support, to help address the challenges faced by a vital industry that makes such a positive difference for animal welfare, human health and the UK as a whole.

Duncan Phillips, CEO, IVC Evidensia UK & IE 

You can read more about Duncan and the rest of our senior leadership team here.