Yesterday evening (Wednesday 6 February) the House of Lords passed a Statutory Instrument (or SI) to allow the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) to continue to register veterinary surgeons from the European Economic Area (EEA) after the UK leaves the European Union.
The Veterinary Surgeons and Animal Welfare (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 were debated in the House of Lords after being introduced by Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The key part of the amendment was that the RCVS would, after the UK exits the EU, be able to introduce the Statutory Examination for Membership for EEA and Swiss nationals where they hold a degree that does not meet RCVS educational requirements and standards. Under the existing Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive, EEA and Swiss nationals with a veterinary degree from these areas can automatically join the Register without any additional assessment being made. Currently the Statutory Examination for Membership is only undertaken by prospective registrants from outside the EEA who hold a qualification that the RCVS does not recognise.
In explaining the changes Lord Gardiner said: “If the RCVS is satisfied that the degree the applicant holds meets this requirement and is equivalent to one from a UK veterinary school, there is no further assessment of their skill and knowledge. The Royal College estimates that a large majority of applicants from the EEA will meet this requirement. If the applicant does not hold such a degree, they must undertake and pass a professional examination administered by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. This would help ensure consistency of approach to the regulation of veterinary standards in the future. These changes do not affect those already registered to practise veterinary surgery in the United Kingdom. Transitional arrangements also ensure that those who are in the process of registering with the RCVS on exit day are entitled to have their application considered under the current rules.”
The changes as approved were in line with the RCVS Brexit Principles (www.rcvs.org.uk/brexit), which were formulated in 2016 shortly after the UK voted to leave the EU, and which state that the College would move towards a reform of mutual recognition ’so that only graduates from schools accredited by organisations working in accordance with International Accreditors Working Group (IAWG) standards, eg the RCVS, Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) and the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE), are eligible for mutual recognition.’
The SI was supported by several members of the Lords including Crossbench Peer and former RCVS President Lord Trees who said that it would “help to ensure high standards of animal health and welfare and, most importantly, protect the public”. While pointing out that there was a small downside in that currently around 13% of non-UK EU vets admitted to the Register have graduated from vet schools that are not accredited or approved by EAEVE, he added: “I submit that this is a small but worthwhile price to pay to assure the public that any MRCVS vet meets proper professional quality-assurance standards.”
Other Lords who spoke in support were Crossbench Peer Lord Hope of Craighead and the Conservative Peer Baroness Morris of Bolton. During the course of the debate the Liberal Democrats’ Baroness Parminter asked the Minister if the Government could confirm that veterinary surgeons would be added to the Home Office’s Shortage Occupation List – something that the RCVS has called for in conjunction with the British Veterinary Association (BVA), as it would reduce the immigration requirements and bureaucracy needed for veterinary surgeons with recognised degrees from the EU and elsewhere to live and work in the UK. In response Lord Gardiner confirmed that he and his department would be “strongly pressing” for veterinary surgeons to be added to the List adding: “I assure your Lordships that Defra provided evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee strongly supporting the return of veterinary surgeons to the Shortage Occupation List. The MAC is due to report in spring this year.”
Both Baroness Parminter and Labour’s Lord Grantchester also raised concerns about the approximately 13% of EEA registrants who would have to sit the Statutory Examination for Membership and the demands this might place on the RCVS and also the fact that, as of yet, the EU has not yet confirmed it would grant automatic registration to UK graduates with RCVS-accredited UK degrees.
Commenting on this and the debate as a whole, RCVS President Amanda Boag said: “This was a very interesting debate and we are grateful to Lord Gardiner and those who spoke in the House of Lords and raised points of both support and concern about the SI and its implications. By way of reassurance for the profession and public, if needed we would be able to develop the capacity to cope with any additional demand for taking the Statutory Examination for Membership. We were also greatly reassured by Lord Gardiner’s comments that Defra agrees with, and is helping to put forward the strong case for, veterinary surgeons joining the Shortage Occupation List.
“As regards the recognition and automatic registration of UK graduates in the remaining EU countries once the UK leaves, the RCVS is working through the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) and EAEVE to encourage the representatives of the EU 27 to continue to recognise UK graduates and we hope for a positive outcome from these talks.”
More information about the College’s Brexit Principles and its position on a ‘no-deal’ Brexit can be found at www.rcvs.org.uk/brexit