BVA welcomes ‘options analysis’ on NI vet school
Minister concerned by 'exposure' due to needs of agri-food industry
The BVA in Northern Ireland has welcomed the news that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has commissioned a report on the possibility of establishing a vet school here.
The “analysis of options” is designed to deliver more vets for Northern Ireland and stop the brain drain caused by students travelling to Great Britain or Dublin to study veterinary medicine and, in many cases, not returning home afterwards.
Northern Ireland branch president Mark Little, below, said: “We warmly welcome the announcement of this options review, which demonstrates how much the Executive values the role of the veterinary profession in the success of Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry.
“Across the UK we are seeing real problems with veterinary capacity. We’re already working across the sector to increase recruitment into the veterinary profession and improve the retention of our colleagues across all areas of veterinary medicine.
“Opening a new vet school in Northern Ireland presents opportunities to encourage young people from our local community to pursue a veterinary career, as well as building on our strengths in veterinary research into animal health and welfare and public health.”
Northern Ireland’s vet shortage was recently highlighted when its chief veterinary officer, Dr Robert Huey, below, told a Stormont’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee that official checks goods now required due to the NI Protocol were currently being carried out by just 12 vets.
Dr Huey warned that Northern Ireland could soon have to carry out the same number of agri-food checks as the EU currently does as a whole.
Announcing the options report, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said: “I have been concerned for some time that Northern Ireland may not attract sufficient veterinary surgeons to meet the needs of the local agri-food industry in the future, and I have been keen that my department continues to explore options for a more secure supply of vets for Northern Ireland on a longer-term basis.”
“Northern Ireland is particularly exposed in this respect as its agri-food industry depends so much on exports, and a high animal health and welfare status; while it is the only region of the UK that does not have its own indigenous veterinary education facility.”
Talks have already with Queen’s University and Ulster University over the possibility of offering what would be the UK’s 10th veterinary course in Northern Ireland.
Queen’s University vice-chancellor Ian Greer said: “The engagement with DAERA was a key step for the development of a veterinary school in Northern Ireland, which has always depended on veterinary graduates from Great Britain and Ireland.
“Being able to produce our own vets would be transformative for Northern Ireland and particularly our agri-food industry, which is such an important part of the economy. Furthermore, the proposal will draw on the collective strengths and assets of Northern Ireland with a novel and exciting partnership model. We look forward to further engagement on this in the coming months.”
Carol Curran, executive dean for the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences at Ulster University, said: “Ulster University is supportive of proposals to consider the establishment of a veterinary school in Northern Ireland and interested in discussing this concept more fully to develop a preferred way forward with the steering group, which includes the relevant government departments and stakeholders.”