Helen Ballantyne

Blog asks if veterinary nurses are strong enough advocates for the profession

A new blog has been published on the Vet Futures website asking if veterinary nurses are being strong enough advocates for the profession.

The article is written by Helen Ballantyne who is both a veterinary nurse and a medical nurse and also a member of the VN Futures Action Group. VN Futures, which is run jointly between the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) and was launched earlier this year, aims to draw up a blueprint for the future of the veterinary nursing profession.

In her blog Helen argues that, while veterinary nurses have always been strong advocates for animal welfare and patient care, they have not always advocated the profession in such a strong way. She posits several reasons why this might be the case including it being seen, historically, as a ‘subservient’ role, the fact that the vast majority of the profession are women, the profession’s relatively young age, busyness, and the fact that veterinary nurses may not necessarily know where to turn for advocacy.

However, she says this is all beginning to change: “There are clear barriers to engagement and yet, there is a change in the air.  In the past, debating sessions have been hosted at BVNA Congress, a forum in which experts were brought together to initiate discussion on various issues. For several years it was poorly attended, there were a few voices, a titter of applause and then the room would empty.  Last year, feeling that the time might be right, the session was reintroduced and the debate on small animal nutrition that ensued was energetic, knowledgeable and passionate.  It showed that veterinary nurses have started speak, to use their knowledge and expertise to form valid relevant opinions.

“This year the RCVS announced an increase in the number of candidates standing for its VN Council showing that more members of the profession want to speak out. Each year the BVNA sees more and more of the profession work on projects for Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month in May.

“This means that each year the word spreads among the general public that veterinary nurses are not just ‘a cheaper substitute vet’ or an ‘aspiring vet’ but a professional member of the team with different responsibilities to the veterinary surgeons.”

She encourages veterinary nurses to use the VN Futures project as an opportunity to stand up and be counted and help influence the future of the profession adding: “It’s time to get involved, it’s time to get interested, for ourselves and for our patients. For if we don’t speak, then we lose the right to say ‘our profession’. It’s time to stand taller and speak louder, because crucially, there are people listening.”

Members of the profession who would like to contribute to the project can attend the upcoming VN Futures roadshow meeting at Edinburgh Napier University on Wednesday 11 May or either of the two upcoming Regional Question Times which take place in Nottingham and Cardiff on Tuesday 17 May and Tuesday 31 May respectively. To attend any of these events visit

The VN Futures Action Group will also be launching its Action Plan at the Vet Futures Summit on Monday 4 July 2016. Tickets to this event cost £20 each and can be ordered at

Any veterinary nurses, or other members of the practice team, who wish to comment on the blog can do so by visiting where there will also be a poll to answer asking whether veterinary nurses are strong advocates for the profession.



Should VAT on vet fees for pets be dropped?

Charging VAT on vet fees is a barrier to owners registering their pets with a veterinary surgery. This is the view of Stuart Winter, the Sunday Express small animal columnist and a campaigner to end VAT on pet fees.

This month we are asking you to consider whether VAT should be removed from vet fees. Owning a pet, argues Stuart Winter in our third guest blog, is not a luxury to be taxed when they need medical intervention but owning a companion improves the health and wellbeing of its owner.

Stuart Winter writes that removing VAT on vets’ fees for domestic animals, or at least reducing it to five pence in the pound, would improve the nation’s animal welfare. It would allow low-income families to seek medical attention earlier, he argues, while allowing more owners to afford and take out pet insurance.

He says that shifting Government thinking on the subject might be a Herculean task, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t campaign for its removal. “No Chancellor delights in losing revenue.  Treating, curing and caring for sick and injured animals is nothing more than a service and services are ripe to be harvested.

“It is time for a counter argument. Pet ownership is not a luxury. It is more than a privilege. Is it not a human right? Welcoming animals into our lives makes our lives more fulfilled and more civilised.”

This month’s poll asks: Would you agree that VAT should no longer be levelled on vet fees? We encourage members of the veterinary team and the public to take part in the poll so that we can generate debate on the issue of VAT and better understand the full consequences if it was removed.

NB the views expressed in the blog are Stuart’s own, and not necessarily those of the RCVS or the BVA.

Ambitions for the profession take shape after first Vet Futures Group meeting

Greater diversity, a truly integrated One Health approach and zero veterinary suicides were just some of ambitions for the profession discussed at the first meeting of the Vet Futures Group, which took place on 26 January 2015.

The first meeting of the Group included veterinary surgeons from a range of backgrounds, including small animal, equine and farm animal practice, food hygiene, research, education and industry, as well as members of the veterinary nursing profession and animal owner groups.

The purpose of the day was to discuss the first tranche of research carried out by the project team – based on interviews and focus groups with vets and vet nurses, BVA and RCVS Council members, animal owners and other users of veterinary services, and also a literature review.  This has provided a snapshot of the issues facing the profession in the UK today and what is known about their likely future impact.

The literature review identified possible drivers for change, including demographic factors; economic forces; the increasingly competitive market; client behaviour; food supply and global imperatives; and, mental wellbeing.

Both research reports are available in the Resources section.

The Vet Futures team challenged delegates to identify goals for the profession to achieve by 2030. Discussion was wide ranging, with suggestions including:

  • The veterinary profession providing a one-stop shop for all information, advice and support on animal welfare issues, and adapting the community care approach of human healthcare to animal welfare
  • A more structured profession with clearer entry requirements and career development opportunities
  • Vets and VNs active and effective in a wider range of activities
  • A ‘green’ profession
  • Less stress and improved work-life balance
  • Practice to be less focused on margins from medicines sales
  • A portfolio career to become the norm
  • Zero veterinary suicides
  • A valued role for the vet and VN in owner education
  • A truly integrated One Health approach with parity for the veterinary and human medical professions
  • Omnipotential not omnicompetence
  • The most trusted profession in the country
  • Playing a key role in food security
  • A significant improvement in the ‘if you had your time again, would you still be a vet/VN’ score on the RCVS Surveys of the Professions
  • Eradication of rabies
  • Greater diversity
  • Less anthropomorphism – treating as far as we should, not as far as we can

The two pieces of research discussed at the meeting, together with feedback from the delegates, will inform the next phase of the Vet Futures project, which will include a survey amongst BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession Panel members, a larger survey amongst the whole of the veterinary and veterinary nursing profession, and a series of roadshow meetings across the UK.

The third and final phase of the project will be the development of a report and action plan to be launched towards the end of this year.

Guest blogger urges the profession to be more open about mental ill-health


This month, we are asking members of the profession whether they would recognise mental health problems in their colleagues.

The question is posed in relation to our second guest blog which, this month, is written by Rosie Allister, the Chair of the Vet Helpline and a Director of the Veterinary Benevolent Fund. She argues that members of the profession need to be more open about the mental health challenges they experience and not be afraid to seek help.

Rosie, who is also a researcher at the University of Edinburgh specialising in veterinary wellbeing, writes that members of the profession should be more willing to open up about their own mental health problems and intervene by talking and listening to colleagues who may be suffering from mental ill-health.

For example, she says: “Looking to the future, we need to better understand who is most at risk, how to reach out to them, and how we can start to change our culture so that it is OK to ask for help.”

She also proposes that, due to the caring nature of the occupation and high client expectations, members of the profession routinely put work and animal welfare ahead of their own needs and that, in order for there to be wider cultural change, individuals need to change their own attitudes towards asking for help. This includes the discussion of ‘taboo subjects’ such as suicide.

“Perhaps all of us have to start trying to change our culture to one that is more accepting and supportive and looks out for those in need even when they aren’t able to reach out themselves”, she writes.

She writes following the December 2014 launch of the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative, which aims to change the culture of the profession by reducing stigma surrounding mental ill-health and encouraging more open discussion.

This month’s poll asks: “Could you recognise the signs of mental ill-health in a colleague?” and we would encourage members of the profession to take part in the poll so that we can better understand attitudes towards and experiences of mental health issues.

Meanwhile, December’s poll had asked “Do you think your veterinary education prepared you for running a business?” for which the majority (84%) said “no”, with just 3% saying “yes” and 13% saying “partially”.

For confidential support members of the profession can call the Vet Helpline on 0303 040 2551 where calls are answered 24-hours a day by trained volunteers who have experience of the profession. Alternatively, they can use a confidential email service which can be accessed through the Vet Helpline website.