Brexit and the pandemic have been blamed for a shortage of vets that is leading to increasing numbers of surgeries having to close their doors.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons said the profession was already facing major recruitment and retention issues but said this had increased due to the “double whammy” of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and Covid.
The problem is said to be most acute in rural areas and in food safety roles but cities are also bearing the brunt.
McDonald Vets on Queen Margaret Drive, a busy practice in Glasgow’s west end, is currently closed with owners being directed to the company’s other surgery in Scotstoun. A spokeswoman for the firm said the temporary closure was due to vet shortages.
The rise in pet ownership during lockdown has also contributed to an increase in the demand for veterinary services, heaping more pressure on the already fragile sector.
An estimated 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.
Romain Pizzi, Scottish secretary of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) said it was concerned about the impact on mental health, warning that vets were suffering increased levels of “stress and burnout”.
The rate of suicide in the veterinary profession has been pegged as close to twice that of the dental profession, more than twice that of the medical profession and four times the rate in the general population.
Currently, around 60% of those joining the Register of Veterinary Surgeons in a given year are from the EU, and an estimated 95% of vets working in the public health and food safety sectors are EU-qualified.
However, a directive that recognises overseas qualifications ended with the Transition Period on December 31 2020, which, along with the end of freedom of movement, means that EU-qualified vets who are EU citizens no longer have an automatic right to live and work in the UK and join the RCVS Register.
All vets now need to have qualified from a veterinary school accredited or approved by the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE) to be eligible to register to practise as a vet in the UK, otherwise they must pass the RCVS Statutory Membership Examination.
The RCVS successfully lobbied the Home Office to add veterinary surgeons to the Shortage Occupation List, meaning that qualified veterinary surgeons are prioritised for visas and some of the immigration barriers are lowered for them.
A spokesman said: “Firstly, we believe that overseas-qualified vets are an asset to the UK veterinary community, and we offer training to support their transition to practising in the UK and will continue to explore potential options such as mutual recognition agreements, such as we have in place with the Veterinary Council of Ireland.
“Whilst we want to encourage appropriately qualified overseas vets to work in the UK, we also believe that better incentives should be used to recruit vets already in the UK.
“”Ultimately, we need to boost the numbers of UK veterinary graduates so that we are less reliant on overseas-qualified vets, which will require additional funding and support from Government.”
Romain Pizzi, Scottish Branch President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) said the opening of new veterinary schools in Scotland would help ease pressure on the industry but said this needs to be bolstered by increased government funding.
He said: “The veterinary profession was already facing recruitment and retention problems, but these have been significantly increased by the double whammy of Brexit and Covid.
“The workload has increased but the supply of vets from the EU has dried up.
“The impact is felt even more in rural and remote communities and in public health roles such as food safety.
“The veterinary profession has worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic and we are concerned about the impact of stress and burnout on our colleagues.
“Across the sector we’re doing a lot to try to stop the leaky bucket by improving workplace conditions.
“There are also new vet schools opening in Scotland and across the UK which will help to increase the pipeline of vets coming through, but this must be accompanied by sufficient funding and resources otherwise we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.”