News & Press: NZVA media release

Critical shortage of veterinarians just not sexy enough

Wednesday, 9 September 2020  
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While the primary sector has been hailed as a saviour of the New Zealand economy during the COVID restrictions, a critical shortage of veterinarians and its impact on the primary sector just doesn’t seem to be viewed as important or sexy enough to see border restrictions streamlined.

“We’re led to the conclusion that veterinarians are just not viewed as important, or as sexy as other parts of the economy such as film making, which have seen wholesale exemptions created.  

“This is surprising given veterinarians’ essential worker status during lockdown,” says Kevin Bryant, chief executive of the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA).

“We also understand that exemptions have been granted to build golf courses, build or repair racetracks and for shearers, surely vets are at least as important as these roles to supporting the economic functioning of the country.  

“As an example, if animal welfare, food safety and biosecurity are compromised because there are insufficient vets to support the primary sector, the economic impact on New Zealand could be catastrophic.  

“We also need to consider the vital role that veterinarians play in keeping pets healthy and the positive influence this has on family well-being, especially during periods of lockdown,” he says.  

“The repercussions of these shortages are far-reaching and, in many cases, have long-term consequences including poor veterinary mental health and well-being, burn-out and veterinarians leaving the profession,” says Dr Helen Beattie, chief veterinary officer of the NZVA.  

“We are concerned that poor farmer health and well-being will result when farmers are unable to get the support for their animals they need, and there’ll be compromised animal welfare, food safety and biosecurity surveillance, as well as a negative impact on production.  

“Immediate concerns were and are held for resourcing for seasonal requirements – we reached out for help early, foreseeing gaps for spring calving, equine reproductive procedures, mating and scanning, and calf disbudding – including training farmers to do this,” she says.  

The NZVA has been talking to Ministers and officials in an effort to help streamline processes to enable veterinarians to enter the country and alleviate the critical veterinary shortage exacerbated by border restrictions imposed due to COVID 19.  So far this doesn’t seem to have worked with more applications being declined each day, despite laborious hours spent submitting applications.  

We are calling on the Government to take urgent steps to alleviate this situation by elevating veterinarians to critical worker status and streamlining and speeding up the application and approval process.

A survey of NZVA members indicated that out of 124 practices there was a shortfall of 224 veterinarians. Most respondents were seeking veterinarians on a full-time, permanent basis. Veterinarians were being sought across all types of practices including large animal, mixed, companion, equine and specialist fields.