Is Brexit A Threat To The Success of Veterinary Practices in the UK?

Is Brexit A Threat To The Success of Veterinary Practices in the UK?The Brexit vote in June of last year set many warning bells jingling throughout veterinary Practices around the country. It’s well known through the industry that the number of UK graduates, year on year is failing to keep up with the growing demand for qualified and experienced professionals. Since the role of Veterinary Surgeon was removed from the ‘Occupation Shortage’ list, making it more difficult for veterinary professionals from many non-EU members to gain working visas, Practices have been increasingly reliant on candidates from the EU. Following the Referendum, many Practices are now concerned as to where they will find enough qualified and experienced staff.

The issue hits from two main angles

The issue hits Practices from two main angles: those looking to expand, requiring additional surgeons and nurses over and above those already employed, and those Practices needing to replace staff. Usually, this would simply mean picking from an existing pool, but since the Brexit vote, Practices are starting to worry about the size of that pool shrinking.

And with good reason. A recent survey conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has shown a worrying proportion of non-UK, EU professionals have begun to worry what the future holds for them in terms of their right to remain in the UK and their right to work here.

The IES survey was sent to 5,572 veterinary surgeons and 100 veterinary nurses from other EU countries and who are registered in the UK. Nearly 3100 responded to the questions which covered a range of topics including how they felt about their future prospects and employment security. Of those who responded, 78% work in clinical practice, so their answers are of particular interest to those running a Practice.

Here are the key statistics:

  • 73% expressed a desire to continue working in the UK
  • 67% find the uncertainty stressful/difficult to cope with
  • 40% felt they had reduced job security
  • 40% said they were more likely to leave the UK
  • 18% are actively looking for work outside of the UK

Perhaps the most telling statistic is that an overwhelming 88% of those who responded to the survey believe the UK will experience a shortage of veterinary surgeons if non-UK EU nationals are no longer permitted to work here.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has recognised the uncertainty the Brexit vote has injected into the sector. The RCVS recognises Brexit has the potential to impact not only veterinary staff and Practices, but also animal health and welfare, and public health. The RCVS has responded with the adoption of three ‘Brexit Principles’ aimed at providing a unified voice for the industry:

  1. Vital veterinary work will continue
  2. High standards of animal health and welfare will remain and improve
  3. The RCVS as a global force for good

It’s not only the RCVS actively bringing this issue to the forefront. On an episode of the Today programme in mid-June, DEFRA’s secretary of state publicly highlighted the far-reaching influence EU vets exercise over the UK economy. On 27th June, at a parliamentary Brexit briefing at the House of Commons, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) called on the Government to guarantee the working rights, with no time limit, for non-UK EU vets and vet nurses, working or studying in the UK.

The ability to provide ongoing clinical services

Whilst many professionals will feel boosted by the support and active promotion of the industry and its role within Brexit negotiations, for veterinary Practices, the mid-to long-term concern is the ability to provide ongoing clinical services for the animals in their care. The IES has declared an intention to conduct two further surveys over the coming 18 – 24 months as a means of keeping its pulse on the general mood within the non-UK EU veterinary professionals’ community. This should provide forewarning of any impending staffing crises. Thankfully, of those surgeons and nurses who responded to the IES survey, 79% are awaiting the outcome of the Brexit negotiations before deciding what to do so there is no discernible immediate impact and this takes the pressure off in the short-term. With the support of the industry’s governing bodies, the outlook should become more settled for our resident colleagues from across the water.


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