There are growing fears over the effect the shortage will have on the agriculture industry in Ireland, which plays a key role in the country’s economy
Many of Ireland’s vets are experiencing ‘burnout’ because of a recruitment crisis in the profession. That is the warning from leading representatives in the veterinary sector who are calling for measures to be urgently put in place to tackle the problem.
There are growing fears about the impact of the vet shortage, particularly on the agricultural industry which plays such a key role in the country’s economy.
Brexit and the massive increase in pet ownership during the Covid pandemic are just two of the factors which senior veterinary figures say have created a "perfect storm” where the demands on vets throughout Ireland have soared.
The vast majority of practices are having difficulties in recruiting additional staff. This is despite figures indicating that Ireland has never had as many vets.
The Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI), the statutory body responsible for the management of the industry, currently has a register of 3,154 vets and 1,159 veterinary nurses.
A VCI spokesperson said these are the highest numbers they have ever had on their register. However, despite this, veterinary practices are struggling to find staff.
“Basically if an applicant has a veterinary qualification and a pulse, then the job is theirs,” one vet told the Sunday Independent.
Conor Geraghty, president of Veterinary Ireland, the representative body for veterinary surgeons in Ireland, said the issue needs to be addressed.
“We are being told that there have never been more vets registered but it is clear there is a problem in the industry,” he said. “Anecdotally, we are hearing that so many practices are having problems recruiting staff.”
The only vet school in Ireland is at University College Dublin which produces around 100 graduates each year. Plans have been put forward for a vet school in Northern Ireland but the proposal is only at the consultation stage.
Police were recently called to an incident in Northern Ireland. A large number of cars had gathered and there was concern it was an illegal event breaking Covid restrictions.
Officers arrived and counted 57 cars in a queue. Further investigations established it was not a Covid-breaking event. It was a queue outside the local vets.
Just another example, according to Mark Little, president of the North of Ireland Veterinary Association, of the workload currently being faced by vets. He revealed that from the 195 veterinary practices registered in Northern Ireland, there have been 175 jobs advertised so far this year.
He described the workload facing vets and their staff as ‘frantic’.
“Traditionally, if you wanted to see a vet you would get an appointment the same day. In the last year that has gone and people are now waiting three weeks to a month,” said Mr Little. “In large animal practices, work is being prioritised to emergencies only, to the detriment of herd health.”
Pat Farrell, animal health chairman at the Irish Farmers Association, said the current shortage of vets was a “complex issue”, with multiple factors impacting on the “diminishing service” to farmers.
“These include the pathways to qualification for vets; the obligations set by the Veterinary Council; the unique nature of the service required by farmers; the demographics of the farm animal population; and the extremely low income of farmers dependent on this service,” he said.
“The economic facts are: it’s more lucrative for vets to service small animals and this can be done, largely, in normal working hours.”
Mr Farrell urged the VCI and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to facilitate discussions on how the current vet shortage can be addressed. The department was contacted but made no comment.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland said there was an “increasing acceptance” of the need for a ‘more assured supply’ of graduate vets.
“To that end, Minister (Edwin) Poots has commissioned a formal assessment of the need and an independent analysis of the various options for better assuring the supply of veterinarians, and an associated centre of excellence for innovation and research in Northern Ireland.”