Veterinary groups are calling on the government to extend the deadline for vets to sign new bovine TB testing contracts to give practices enough time to scrutinise the deals.
The deadline for signing contracts is April 24, with a start date of May 1.
Members of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) across the country, including in the high incidence TB areas in the south west of England, have raised a number of questions about the contracts and are concerned about the short timeframe given to sign.
Individual veterinary practices have been able to secure short extensions via the delivery partners, but BVA and BCVA believe more time is needed for practices to consider decisions that could have a significant impact on their businesses.
In a letter to Defra secretary of state Liz Truss, BVA and BCVA are calling for an extension to the end of May for practices to sign up to be subcontractors, with a start date of June 1. BVA and BCVA are also in contact directly with the delivery partners and APHA to highlight specific concerns and obtain answers to some specific queries raised by members.
BVA president John Blackwell said: “The move to tendering for TB testing and other official veterinarian services has caused a significant amount of anxiety for some of our members.
“One of the biggest concerns is members have not been given enough time to consider the impact of the new contract on their practices. The government has been planning tendering for several years, but its stipulated procurement timelines have given local veterinary practices just a few days to make these significant decisions.
“BVA and BCVA are therefore calling on Defra and APHA to extend the deadline for signing contracts by one month. This would provide much needed additional time for practices to ensure they can give the contract proper consideration before signing.
“We have consistently warned Defra the move to tendering must not simply be a cost cutting exercise, because the UK’s network of veterinary practices, which is vital for spotting and dealing with animal disease, is at stake.
“We opposed the move to tendering from day one, but we are where we are and it is essential the government now works with the delivery partners and veterinary practices to make sure the TB eradication programme can be delivered effectively.”
BCVA junior vice president Neil Blake said: “BCVA remains firm in its belief that local vets should be an integral part of delivery of TB strategy across England. A joint letter co-signed by BCVA and NFU sent to the then secretary of state on this issue emphasised the importance of that working relationship continuing.
“It would be wrong for a continuation of that working relationship to be adversely impacted and a smooth transition to the new arrangements put at significant risk as a consequence of strict adherence to the procurement timelines by APHA.”