September 11, 2011


UK farm ministry may close veterinary labs to save cost



In an effort to save GBP2.4 million (US$3.8 million) a year, the UK farm ministry, Defra is expected to shut down laboratory facilities from more than half of the UK's regional veterinary centres, according to Prospect, a union which represents scientists, engineers and managers.


Prospect has said that proposals to close laboratories in eight of the 14 regional centres run by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) will put the fight against early diagnosis of animal diseases at risk.


The AHVLA is an executive Defra agency that safeguards animal health and welfare, and public health, through research, surveillance and inspection. Its veterinary labs are responsible for animal-specific health testing, including bovine TB, foot-and-mouth and swine fever, among other services.


The AHVLA said that it is reviewing its delivery network and discussing the proposals internally, but that no decisions have yet been made.


In the first phase of the proposed changes, laboratory services work would cease at Thirsk, Langford and Truro by the end of March 2012, with Aberystwyth, Carmarthen, Luddington in Warwickshire, Preston and Winchester expected to follow in April 2013. AHVLA intends to retain laboratory services workgroups at Penrith, Shrewsbury, Starcross, Bury St Edmunds, Sutton Bonington, Newcastle, Weybridge and Lasswade.


Geraldine O'Connell, Prospect national secretary said, "The country cannot afford the loss of so many skilled laboratory staff or the reduction in testing facilities. Worst of all, the closures will result in a poorer service to vets and the livestock industry, which will have to wait for diagnoses while samples are despatched around the country to the few remaining labs."


However the AHVLA has denied that the changes rely on site closures to generate savings and said that consolidating laboratories would not affect testing services.


An AHVLA spokesman said, "The laboratory services work from the locations affected by the change would be transferred to the eight continuing work groups."


"It is already the case that AHVLA labs specialise in doing certain tests. Many tests now require dedicated equipment and expertise with strict quality assurance, so are not provided locally. There is a courier network to move samples around overnight. A recent survey showed that farmers and vets are satisfied with the service they receive and there is no reason why this should change when testing is consolidated into fewer locations," the spokesman said.

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