Brexit and post-lockdown puppy boom bring ‘catastrophic’ shortage of vets

There’s a nationwide workforce shortage in the veterinary sector, including public health, animal welfare and exports – with ‘huge challenges’ on the horizon

Experts say a nationwide shortage in vets could be 'catastrophic'
Experts say a nationwide shortage in vets could be ‘catastrophic’

Experts have warned that a lack of veterinary professionals and an influx of puppies following the pandemic could leave the sector in crisis.

Post-Brexit export regulations, a spike in pet ownership during lockdown and the impact of the pandemic, has led to workforce shortages throughout the entire veterinary sector, including those within public health and animal welfare.

The decrease in newly trained vets comes as only a ‘handful’ of accredited universities produce around 900 qualified vets each year, which fails to match the openings for around 2,000 job roles.

Not only this, but rules implemented by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) mean that, for EU vets, they now require the same level of English that is needed for students to enter Oxford or Cambridge University – standards EU vets were previously exempt from.

Around 900 vets qualify each year – but there are 2,000 annual job openings to fill



Despite relaxing the rules in light of the national shortage – which included a half-point reduction in one area of the English test, Eville & Jones chief executive Charles Hartwell claims the change is “not large enough to make an impact on the industry”.

Charles said: “The veterinary profession in the UK is in crisis. We need more vets to come through the education system which takes five years, and an easier process for EU vets to join the UK workforce – of which there has been a 70% fall this year.”

He described the strain on the industry as “catastrophic”, as it could result in “challenges with trading, supply of animal products and completion of food chains”.

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This is because vets also enable international trade, ensure meat is safe to eat, safeguard animal welfare, and keep restaurants, supermarkets and farmers markets stocked with quality produce.

Charles added: “We are already seeing the reaction to a huge increase in pet ownership with the BVA advising to think twice before adopting new pets and some veterinary practices having to refuse new clients.

“Over 95% of official veterinarians (OV) working in England and Wales come from the EU, and working as an OV is seen as a rewarding and valued profession. Consequently, there is a huge amount of work to be done in the UK to recognise the important role that OVs play, the demand for meat hygiene inspectors that support OVs, and the contribution both make to everyday life.”

Despite a relaxation of rules for EU vets, professionals say it’s ‘not good enough’



Charles said his company is now actively seeking to recruit around 100 more vets to work in the relatively new and fast-growing area of ‘export official veterinarians’, who ensure exports of products containing ingredients of animal origin meet the import requirements of the destination country.

This means overseas consumers of British food can consume it with confidence, enabling UK businesses of all sizes to export produce around the world.

Charles concluded: “The challenge of meeting new requirements as well as a reduction in qualified vets available in the UK, cannot be underestimated. As a country we need to look at our capacity to produce qualified vets and how we normalise and promote the benefits of a career in public health.

“There’s not an overnight fix but maintaining and prioritising public safety and animal welfare is vital.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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