Government recognises test and trace challenge for vet practices in England

5 August 2020

Public Health England has issued advice on test and trace in recognition of the potential impact on veterinary practices, following lobbying by the British Veterinary Association (BVA).

When the contact tracing systems were introduced across the UK, BVA raised concerns that veterinary practices could be forced to shut down due to the nature of veterinary work that means veterinary professionals cannot physically distance. This could have a significant impact on the provision of animal health and welfare services, particularly in an emergency. BVA asked the Health Secretary and Defra to assess contact tracing system calls with veterinary professionals in the same way that those in human healthcare settings are considered.

In response, Public Health England has issued updated advice to BVA and the RCVS recognising the importance of veterinary services and the impact that disruption to healthcare provision and veterinary services can have in some rural communities. In summary the guidance means that veterinary professionals who have taken all precautions and who wear appropriate PPE when working together will not be considered as contacts and will not be asked to self-isolate.

In addition, in the event that self-isolation is required but would lead to a major problem with the provision of veterinary services to support animal health and welfare in an area, veterinary practices can discuss the situation with the local PHE Health Protection Team who will consider a local risk assessment.

Commenting, BVA President Daniella Dos Santos said:

“This is a huge breakthrough for veterinary practices who have been working under the fear of the contact tracing programme potentially forcing them to shut down. It’s the number one concern that members have been raising with me through our Covid Clinics and in other communications, and I’m delighted that we now have a positive outcome for them in England.

“We’re incredibly grateful to Lord Goldsmith and UK CVO Christine Middlemiss for their support in getting the new PHE guidance approved. We’ll continue to raise the issue in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and hope that a similar approach is taken.

“The advice to veterinary professionals in England is that as long as you are taking all precautions such as practising social and physical distancing, practising good hand hygiene and wearing appropriate PPE, you will not be considered as contacts and will not have to self-isolate. If you test positive for Covid-19 make sure you explain the full circumstances to the contact trace call handler.

“It’s important to remember that the contact trace information is confidential so if a client or a contact outside your workplace identifies you as a contact, you may still need to self-isolate. Veterinary practices and professionals should continue to follow social distancing and biosecurity guidance.”

Professor Ian Ramsey, President of the BSAVA said: “I am pleased to hear that Public Health England has issued specific advice to vets regarding the contact tracing scheme in recognition of the potential impact of self-isolation on veterinary practices. However it is important that all aspects of the advice have been followed if individuals are to be regarded as not having had contact at work otherwise such individuals should accept the need for, and comply with, the requirements of self-isolation. I commend the BVA for raising these concerns and in their efforts for getting clear advice to be issued.“