Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Robin Swann MLA has welcomed a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee to the Home Office that vets should be reinstated on the UK’s Shortage Occupation List.
The decision is a crucial step forward for the industry which has found it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain adequate numbers of veterinary practitioners.
Robin Swann said:
“For some time now I have been worried that our already over-stretched veterinary workforce could struggle to cope with increased demand after Brexit.
“Even before the EU referendum I’m aware that there were veterinary practices in parts of Northern Ireland facing a profound recruitment challenge, with some repeatedly advertising positions only for not a single application to be received.
“The industry has for some time been facing a perfect storm of an ageing workforce nearing retirement, greater numbers of younger female vets moving to part-time and less unsociable working hours and now a large number of EU vets returning to their home Member States.
"The shortage of staff was beginning to have a direct impact locally as vets in some areas were finding it increasingly difficult to get the time to offer call outs to farm premises.
“A no deal Brexit would also see the demands placed on the profession skyrocket overnight, especially with regards to export certification, and make it even more difficult for the industry to attract the staff that it desperately needs just to over even basic cover.
“Whilst reinstating veterinary services back on to the Shortage Occupation List will not be an overnight fix, it will come as a major relief to the industry. Once the profession is reinstated then trained veterinary applicants from outside the EEA will be prioritised and fast-tracked through the immigration system.
“It is essential that the UK has access to adequate numbers of vets moving forward. I think this once again makes the case for a local university in Northern Ireland to start offering a veterinary medicine option. The best long-term solution to ensuring we have enough vets would be if we started producing them ourselves.”