The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has reacted with caution to the announcement by the AHVLA that it is changing the veterinary scanning surveillance system in England and Wales.
The number of AHVLA surveillance post-mortem (PM) centres will be reduced from 14 to seven (down to six in 2015) plus the specialist poultry facility at Lasswade in Scotland.
For the first three years a carcase collection service will be provided within the areas where AHVLA PM facilities are closed. It is expected that a network of non-AHVLA pathology providers will be established during this time.
First opinion gross pathology will be delivered by private vets (with training provided at a cost) and a network of expert second opinion pathology services established via a tender exercise or provider approval scheme.
A dedicated Surveillance Intelligence Unit will be created to support data capture from a wide range of sources and the use of surveillance findings to trigger mitigation measures or further research.
Commenting on the announcement, BVA president Robin Hargreaves said: “It is good practice to review current systems with a view to improving them but we have said repeatedly that any changes to the veterinary scanning surveillance system must not be based on cost alone. The cost of disease outbreak far outweighs the cost of providing a robust surveillance system.
“Elements of the announced changes are positive, such as the increased focus on data collection, maintaining expert capacity, and efforts to increase access to facilities across England and Wales, which is something that the SAG report highlighted as an essential requirement.
“However, the report acknowledges there are known risks and the announcement raises many questions and challenges that will need to be addressed as we receive more detail on the plans.
“Some of the initial challenges we have identified are that the changes must not create a disincentive for farmers to utilise PM services; we need to be confident in the quality of the identified facilities for gross PMEs; we must ensure that veterinary practices see value in investing in the additional training requirements to provide services; and we need to be sure that there isn’t a loss of veterinary expertise at AHVLA.
“BVA will need to gather the views of members on the ground and our specialist species divisions to hear how they think the new system will impact on disease surveillance in their local area and the national picture. On the face of it the announcement appears to make a lot of assumptions that will need to be tested and so we look forward to seeing more detail.”