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Vet shortage ‘not important enough’: NZVA

WHILE the primary sector has been hailed as a saviour of the New Zealand economy during Covid-19 restrictions, a critical shortage of veterinarians and its impact on the industry does not appear to be important enough to see border restrictions streamlined.

“We're led to the conclusion that veterinarians are not viewed as important as other parts of the economy such as film-making, which have seen wholesale exemptions created,” said New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) chief executive Kevin Bryant.

“This is surprising given veterinarians' essential worker status during the lockdown.

“We also understand that exemptions have been granted to build golf courses, repair racetracks and for shearers.

“Surely veterinarians are at least as important in supporting the economic functioning of the country.

“As an example, if animal welfare, food safety and biosecurity are compromised because there are insufficient vets to support the primary sector, the economic impact on New Zealand would be catastrophic.”

Mr Bryant said the vital role that veterinarians play in keeping pets healthy and the positive influence this has on family wellbeing, especially during periods of lockdown, needs to be considered.

NZVA chief veterinary officer Dr Helen Beattie said the repercussions of these shortages were far-reaching and, in many cases, have long-term consequences including poor veterinary mental health and wellbeing, burn-out and veterinarians leaving the profession.

“We are concerned that poor farmer health and wellbeing will result when farmers are unable to get the support for their animals they need, and there will be compromised animal welfare, food safety and biosecurity surveillance, as well as a negative impact on production.”

Dr Beattie said there were immediate concerns held for resourcing seasonal requirements. “We reached out for help early, foreseeing gaps for spring calving, equine reproductive procedures, mating and scanning, and calf disbudding — including training farmers to do this.”

The NZVA has been talking to Ministers and officials to help streamline processes to enable veterinarians to enter the country and alleviate the critical veterinary shortage exacerbated by border restrictions imposed due to Covid-19.

“We are calling on the Government to take steps to alleviate this situation by elevating veterinarians to critical worker status and streamlining and speeding up the application and approval process.”

A survey of NZVA members indicated that out of 124 practices there was a shortfall of 224 veterinarians. Most respondents were seeking veterinarians on a full-time, permanent basis.