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Vet Shortages

Aug 4, 2022 | Motions, News, Parliament

Despite their willingness, vets are often unable to provide a high level of care to all animals who pass through their doors due to a range of reasons such as staff shortages, resourcing and the financial constraints of their owners. The crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with more Victorians taking on a pet than ever before coupled with vets choosing to leave the industry and seek out other opportunities. This has mostly impacted regional and rural areas, with a number of regional centres no longer having access to the veterinary care they need and the closest emergency vet clinic being located in metropolitan Melbourne.

The mental and physical health benefits of having a pet are widely recognised, yet often the ability to have one is restricted to only those who can afford it. We believe all Victorians should have the opportunity for and the privilege of the companionship of animals. Many vet clinics are corporate owned, and the expectations from their shareholders mean that vets are often forced to prioritise their paying customers to stay open, which can be at odds with animal welfare. Pro bono work is often at the expense of individual veterinarians. So Mr Meddick’s plan is to establish government-funded veterinary hospitals similar to the human health care system, which would implement a bulk-billing model for veterinary care across Victoria with priority for concession card holders, pensioners and animal rescuers and carers for both pets and wildlife. To a limited degree we have fun places that have been proven to work—for example, the Healesville Sanctuary, the Lort Smith Animal Hospital and Zoos Victoria. Established dedicated wildlife hospitals in regional areas with wildlife-skilled vets to reduce the burden on other clinics would be a welcome step.

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Mr Meddick’s second proposition looks to increase the opportunities for veterinary nurses. Because of long-term employee retention challenges for both vets and nurses due to compassion fatigue, the government has added vet nursing to free TAFE, which will help attract some to the sector. But more needs to be done to address retention issues and barriers to prioritising both paying customers and community expectations. Vets are expected to accept injured wildlife from the public for free. However, staff and resources shortages and priority of paying clients often result in them being unable to treat wildlife immediately, resulting in prolonged suffering and rising vet fees to meet shareholder expectations in privately owned veterinary clinics. On top of this, vet wages do not equate to their training when compared to medical doctors.

There is difficulty in attracting new vets to the industry. There are fewer university enrolments as well as regulatory and legislative hurdles for vets from overseas being able to practise in Australia. There is a need to supply extra training and upskilling for vet nurses to become technicians and nurse practitioners. In human medicine nurse practitioners and technicians are allowed to do minor surgical procedures. Applying the same principles in the animal healthcare sector would reduce the patient load burden on vets and surgeons, reduce costs in the industry, enable more animals to be cared for and increase patient access to needed medical and health care. There would be improved retention of current vet nurses due to more professional responsibility, improved pay and greater workplace satisfaction. This system already exists in the United States and works well both for professionals and animal welfare.

There is a need for improved pay and conditions across the veterinary sector to address the retention challenges and the implementation of better mental health support across the veterinary sector to address compassion fatigue and the high rates of suicide. This industry is one of the most suicide prone professions. This is a terrible thing.

In closing, there are a range of challenges facing the veterinary industry across Victoria. This is ultimately impacting animal welfare, vet retention and adequate care for native animals. We need to consider solutions that will lead to a more streamlined system, improved affordability and increased job satisfaction for those who work in the industry. Victoria has an opportunity to lead the way on pet welfare. That is why I will support this motion from Mr Meddick.

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