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A busy start to 2024!

Susan Paterson - RCVS President 2023-24

January and February have been busy months once again with a packed Presidential diary. As well as all the business-as-usual work of committee meetings and Council work, I have been fortunate to receive invitations to a wide range of different stakeholder events.

Susan PatersonThe first of those was in early January when I went to Omagh Day as guests of the Association of Veterinary Surgeons Practising in Northern Ireland (AVSPNI). The invitation to this very special day has been given to the RCVS President for more than 20 years, with the responsibility of choosing a winner from a group of primary care vets who showcase any aspect of first opinion practice. The great thing about the day is that this is primary care veterinary surgeons (who are not necessary experienced polished presenters) sharing an innovation, a prospective or retrospective study that advances primary care. With presentations across companion animal, equine and production animal fields it was a really interesting day and a difficult decision to choose an eventual winner. 

The Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) Congress followed on soon after my trip to Northern Ireland, along with an invitation to take part in a panel discussion on artificial intelligence. This was a timely invitation, not just because the subject is so topical, but also because the RCVS is currently looking at a stakeholder event to consider AI, so it was a chance to rub shoulders with some subject experts as well as read around the subject. Lead by a series of challenging questions, our deliberations started with a definition of AI and how it is currently used in veterinary practice. After that, discussions expanded to the regulation of AI itself and the type of guidance and advice that the RCVS might provide to veterinary professionals around responsible use of AI to improve the care of our patients without compromising animal health and welfare. The packed hall wasn’t short of thought-provoking questions and challenges to the whole of the panel.

Early February saw an invitation to our newest vet school UCLan to discuss with their first cohort what is meant by professionalism and take part in their stethoscope ceremony when they were all presented with shiny new stethoscopes. As someone who will have been qualified for 40 years this year, it is a real pleasure to share in the enthusiasm and passion of our students as they start their own veterinary careers. As part of the background reading I did to prepare for the talk, I was interested to find a study listing the most and least trusted professions. Least trusted I would suggest is pretty predictable with politicians, journalists, car salesmen and estate agents figuring prominently on the list. More interesting was the most trusted professions. Medical professionals such as doctors, nurses and paramedics occupied the top spots followed by teachers and police. Gratifyingly vets are also ranked in the top 10 but, interestingly, hairdressers sneaked in at the bottom of the list.

Mid-February took me to Cardiff to attend a workshop on responsible dog ownership in the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament. Attendees at the meeting included local authorities, police forces and major dog charities, as well as many local rescue charities, representatives from postal workers and veterinary groups including veterinary advisors from the Welsh government. 

The day started with presentations highlighting some of the recent work being undertaken in Wales and although I know similar work is being replicated in other devolved nations, it was great to hear about many of the Welsh initiatives. What struck me was the real sense of collaboration in the meeting and a desire to drive change by engaging at an early stage with owners of problem dogs, before behaviours escalate to become more severe, by using educational resources rather than resorting to punitive measures for low grade offenses. 

My most recent invitation was to the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) Congress in Birmingham. The importance of our farming industry was very much recognised by the presence of an impressive array of political heavyweights including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as part of the first morning’s events. Further presentations followed from the Food Standards Agency, grocery and hospitality sectors around the future of British food as well as a session from the Environmental Agency. After lunch the Congress went into break-out sessions, when I chose to sit in on the dairy workshop. It was interesting to hear firsthand about the challenges the sector faces to try to work sustainably but still produce viable margins. 

Without wanting to alienate any of the other gracious groups who have kindly entertained me over the last few months, it would be remiss of me to fail to mention the incredible gala dinner held at the end of day one. As expected, they had some of the very best food I have ever had at such an event. 

Day two saw hustings from Mark Spencer, the Minister of State for Food, Farming and Fisheries, the Shadow Environment Minister Daniel Zeichner and the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Tim Farron. A lively debate saw a wide range of subjects aired, from flood protection for rural areas to sustainable farming initiatives and changes of land use in Wales. 

The Congress was also an opportunity to catch up with vets and advisors at the NFU to talk about collaboration between the RCVS and the NFU, particularly around ways to engage with students from a wide range of backgrounds, especially those from less represented backgrounds, to encourage them to consider careers in production animal work. 

So a busy time all around, but with just a year as President I want to make sure to listen to and be seen by as many members of the professions and other stakeholders as possible!

Published on 28 February 2024

Tags: Events/meetings Councils & Committees