Government must tackle Brexit veterinary recruitment crisis

A leading Yorkshire vet has told a major international conference that Brexit has the potential to decimate the United Kingdom’s veterinary, food and agricultural sectors.

Speaking at Visegrád Vet Plus near Budapest, Dr Jason Aldiss said that the UK will be “in deep peril” if a post-Brexit deal with Brussels does not include guaranteed access to properly-qualified vets from other EU states and mutual recognition of professional veterinary qualifications. 

And he warned that a no-deal outcome would be “the worst of all worlds.”

  Dr Jason Aldiss BEM

Dr Jason Aldiss BEM

Dr Aldiss, Managing Director of Leeds-based veterinary services company Eville & Jones, said: “There is already a veterinary recruitment and retention crisis in the UK, and that problem is getting worse.  Currently 45 per cent of British Government Veterinary Services posts are filled by vets from other EU member states.  95 per cent of Official Veterinarians are non-UK EU vets.   With less than six months to go until Brexit, there is still no guarantee than these individuals will be allowed to remain in post.

“Understandably, many have already chosen to leave the UK.  At Eville & Jones, I am more than 50 vets short of what I need and that number is rising.   Our recruitment programme is running at full pace but we’re not able to stem the flow of staff moving on.”

Dr Aldiss, who also serves as Secretary General of the Union of European Veterinary Hygienists, cautioned that a no-deal Brexit would be the equivalent of “cutting the life-line on the UK to allow it to drift off into the wilderness.”

He said: “If the UK is to trade with Europe, it must maintain EU standards at the very least.  That means veterinary services must be properly funded to ensure high standards of animal welfare, animal hygiene and public health. 

“All trade in products of animal origin requires veterinary certification – which obviously requires vets.  Without proper access to well-qualified veterinary professionals, UK-EU trade will be impossible.  That would inevitably lead to a scenario where food is left to rot at ports or animals destroyed by the side of the road.  It may sound dramatic, but it is the stark truth.

Dr Aldiss appealed to the UK Government to take swift action to deal with “an impending catastrophe.”  And he called on the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to “address the very real veterinary shortages and make firm recommendations to permit open access to foreign vets.”

He said: “The MAC recently presented a report to British Ministers which recommended that the Government removes the cap on Tier 2 working visas for highly-skilled migrants, currently set at 20,700 each year, which would make it easier to recruit foreign vets.  This is a step in the right direction, but no more than that.

 “The MAC is also in the process of completing a separate report on which professions should be included on the Shortage Occupation List of high demand employees, again removing barriers for employers to recruit appropriately qualified staff from outside the UK.  Vets do not currently feature, and it is time that they did. 

 “The simple fact is that the current British immigration system is not fit for purpose and certainly not for brave new post-Brexit world that Leave campaigners promised.

 “We must allow skilled migrants to come to the UK and bring benefit to our economy.  Further, we should permit quotas of unskilled migrants to work in sectors where their labour is desperately required.

 Dr Aldiss added: “Without sufficient numbers of slaughtermen working in abattoirs, there will be no need for vets.”