Government needs to revise standard operating procedures for bTB testing according to retired state vet.

A FORMER Government vet has called for an overhaul of the testing procedures for bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

Andrew Proud spent 30 years working for the State Veterinary Service in Gloucestershire and believes the standard operating procedures (SOPs) used by the AHVLA are no longer fit for purpose.

Larger herds, pressure from farmers to conduct tests quickly and difficult on-farm conditions mean it has become harder for vets to test without cutting corners.

He said: “Tuberculin testing often happens under adverse circumstances. It takes an unusually conscientious operator to maintain best practice with fractious animals and a handful of metal instruments for several hours while his fingers are frozen, even in the presence of a cooperative and sympathetic herd owner.

“His concentration needs to be focused on the really important elements of the test rather than on desirable, but strictly unnecessary, refinements. The first essential is that each injection is intradermal – in the skin, not beneath it.

“If careful measuring on day one diverts attention from this essential, it is counterproductive as there are other methods of assessing the size of the reaction on day four.”

There is much in the current SOPs, however, that can’t be simplified if the tests are to be carried out correctly. “Next, both injections must be clearly separate and sited so that they can be distinguished from each other and from other skin lesions (which may or may not be present on day one) with which they may be confused on day four,” added Mr Proud.

“This makes the traditional haircut at each site essential, unless a better method of marking the site can be devised.

Correct identification is essential on day four, but, short of determined fraud by the herdsman, is of marginal importance on day one,” Mr Proud added.

John Wilson, a vet with 40 years’ experience, received a severe reprimand from the RCVS disciplinary committee in March for failing to comply with SOPs while Sorin Dinu Chelemen was struck off the register after being found guilty of 32 separate charges.

Mr Proud added: “The whole thing is a mess and you are not going to put it right by spying on everyone or stamping on everyone who does it incorrectly. What it is needs is a proper, widespread consultation of vets. And those vets need to be asked if they were designing the test or writing the rules, how would you do it?”

For more on this story, read this week’s Veterinary Times (VT43.23).

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