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Private veterinary engagement with Government veterinary services

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Ratification Date: 03 Aug 2018

Policy

  1. Schemes which seek to enhance collaboration between private and government veterinary services should be adequately resourced by government to optimize Australia’s emergency animal disease preparedness and response capabilities.
  2. Recruitment of private veterinarians to assist with government work should be based on pre-approved protocols which clearly define the basis and parameters of engagement.
  3. The role of the private veterinarian is viewed as complementary to the work of government, but not as a substitute for an adequately staffed and resourced government veterinary workforce.

Background

Private veterinarians play an essential role assisting government veterinary services to maintain Australia’s favourable animal health status. Through on-farm visits and client interactions, private veterinary practitioners provide important surveillance for emerging and exotic diseases of domestic animals and wildlife. Such engagement is beneficial to the producer through improved animal health, welfare, farm biosecurity and enhanced productivity.

In order to maximise the potential benefit of this passive surveillance, private veterinarians must have access to adequate government veterinary and laboratory support in order to report and conduct initial investigations. Government veterinarians with epidemiological knowledge and training can then provide the necessary oversight and disease management expertise to more fully investigate these cases, should they be determined to be significant disease events.

Nationally-consistent government supported schemes are in place to both train and engage private veterinarians in disease surveillance activities. Examples of these are the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE) Freedom Assurance program, the Accreditation Program for Australian Veterinarians (APAV), and the National Significant Disease Investigation Program (NSDIP). There is room to improve the application of existing programs. For example, the NSDIP is currently not utilised equally between the different states and jurisdictions of Australia.

The AVA supports the activities funded by the government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper including state-delivered continuing education for veterinarians in emergency animal disease (EAD) recognition, and real-time training in Foot and Mouth Disease recognition in Nepal in 2017-19, and recommends continuing government support for these types of initiatives.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Performance of Veterinary Services evaluation in Australia in 20151,2 noted that private veterinarians are a vital link in biosecurity and emergency response plans. However, there is no formal or enforceable agreement to ensure their participation, and this is viewed as a potential weak link in the nation’s preparedness and response capabilities.

In 2014 the AVA assisted in the development of national standards for the employment of private veterinarians in an emergency animal disease (EAD) outbreak, which were agreed by all states and territories3. These address payment of veterinarians, though do not address the issue of ensuring their participation in the first place.

Models should be developed to address this deficiency; it is suggested that recruitment on a whole-of-practice basis may result in better and more coordinated efforts, and an ensured supply of veterinarians and support staff, with less disruption to private practices, than individual recruitment of private veterinarians by the government. Protocols for delivery of delegated functions and duties, as well as training and preparedness, should be part of any such model.

Recommendations

  1. Increased government funding for schemes such as the NSDIP which seek to enhance collaboration between private and government veterinary services.
  2. Continuing government funding of training programs for private veterinarians in EAD recognition and significant disease investigation. This should include extension activities which encourage participation by private practitioners.
  3. Development of models for recruitment of private veterinarians in an EAD event; this may be on a whole-of-practice basis to ensure a supply of adequately trained veterinarians and support staff and a more coordinated response.
  4. Funding for laboratory analyses of samples submitted by private veterinarians where notifiable (either nationally or OIE) disease may be a differential diagnosis, could be significantly increased. This recognises that the cost of transporting and testing samples can often be a barrier to submission, which reduces the potential benefits of passive surveillance.
  5. Where private practitioners collect data, there should be adequate feedback provided to the practitioner, as well as a centralised system of data reporting to keep participants informed.
  6. An audit of the NSDIP should occur to identify any deficits in the program, and mechanisms to establish equal sharing and implementation across jurisdictions.

Purpose

This policy will be used to inform Government of the important resource that private practitioners provide for passive animal health surveillance and emergency animal disease management, and to inform practitioners of their role in Australian biosecurity and surveillance through their daily work and engagement with government veterinary services.

References

  1. OIE. PVS Evaluation report: Australia. http://www.oie.int/fileadmin/Home/eng/Support_to_OIE_Members/docs/pdf/FinalReport_PVS_Australia.pdf
  2. OIE. The OIE Tool for the evaluation of performance of veterinary services (OIE PVS). 2013 update. http://www.oie.int/en/support-to-oie-members/pvs-evaluations/oie-pvs-tool/. Accessed 13 November 2017.
  3. Australian Veterinary Association. National standards for private veterinarians in EAD responses. AVA, 2017. http://www.ava.com.au/newsarticle/new-national-standards-private-vets-working-ead-responses. Accessed November 2017.