Penny Simmonds January 03, 2022
Originally published as a column in The Southland Times
There’s a worrying shortage of vets across the country, but the Government’s lack of action in addressing this issue reflects a remarkable disdain for the sector, animal welfare and the farming community as a whole.
Vets provide a diverse and essential range of services, from the primary sector, to biosecurity and animal welfare, food safety and domestic pet care, and in a place like Southland they are particularly crucial.
Vets tell me that they are working harder and longer, finding it nearly impossible to get the extra staff that they need, with immigration rules and MIQ limitations further aggravating the problem.
There’s currently a shortage of up to 100 vets across the country, according to the NZ Vet Association (NZVA), with seasonal demands like calving and lambing, and a huge increase in pet ownership over lockdown, increasing workloads.
In October the NZVA reported that vets around the country were exhausted, “working 24/7, some at breaking point and doing their best to meet patient needs, including the demand for routine, emergency and after hours work.”
But calls for action have fallen on deaf ears, with a recent application by Massey University to train more vets to ease the shortage, being given little recognition by Government.
Massey University asked to increase the cap on student vet training numbers, change how the cap was decided by moving to a “workforce needs” approach, and extensively increasing funding.
In assessing the application, the Ministry of Education admitted that “increasing workforce pressure” justified a rise to the first year cap in the Veterinary Science programme, but warned that any increase needed to be considered against the “fiscal restraints across the tertiary education sector.”
In other words – there’s a definite need for more vet training in this country, but the Government doesn’t want to pay for it.
As a result, only 25 extra first year vet places, to a total of 125, were approved, effective from July next year, along with a meagre 10 percent funding increase.
Significantly the Government’s own MPI officials even said that they would have liked a more aggressive increase, supporting a doubling of first-year places to 200 by 2023.
Massey University also pointed out that veterinary training is high-cost and that any increase in student numbers, without a funding rise, could risk its international accreditation, pointing out that in England and Australia funding rates for Veterinary Science are the same as for Medicine and Dentistry training.
In this country funding for a vet student is $29,506, while the training allocation for a dentistry student is $55,519, with the ten percent increase for vet students next year amounting to just $2956 per student.
Meanwhile, the Australian Government has granted exceptions for 800 overseas trained vets to enter the country. Here in New Zealand the Government approved 50 spots in July, but these have been worthless because of a lack of MIQ spots.
We all know the significance of farming to our economy - vets are a cornerstone of the rural sector and the Government needs to show greater support.