While veterinarians are still providing providing care and treatment for animals during lockdown, it’s far from business as usual.
In a scathing media release last week, the NZ Vet Association (NZVA) accused the Government of double standards while granting emergency work visas.
“We’re led to the conclusion that veterinarians are just not viewed as important, or as sexy as other parts of the economy such as film making, which have seen wholesale exemptions created,” says NZVA chief executive Kevin Bryant.
“This is surprising given veterinarians’ essential worker status during lockdown.
“We also understand that exemptions have been granted to build golf courses, build or repair racetracks, and for shearers.
“Surely veterinarians are at least as important in supporting the economic functioning of the country.”
Bryant says if animal welfare, food safety and biosecurity are compromised because there are insufficient vets to support the primary sector, the economic impact on New Zealand would be catastrophic.
A survey of NZVA members found that out of 124 practices there was a shortfall of 224 veterinarians. Most respondents were seeking veterinarians on a full-time, permanent basis.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi told Dairy News that the issue concerning veterinarians has been raised with him by Federated Farmers and the matter is being looked at the moment.
He didn’t have a specific time-frame, at this stage, on when a solution might be reached.
Faafoi says work is happening across various sectors which are calling for workers, whom they deem to be critical, to be allowed into New Zealand.
The Minister said that while the Government looks to address the issues around critical workers’ entry, it needs to balance that against maintaining careful border controls and managed isolation to ensure any spread of Covid-19 is limited and does not force a return to lockdown.
NZVA chief veterinary officer Helen Beattie warns that repercussions of vet shortages are far-reaching and, in many cases, have long-term consequences, including poor veterinary mental health and well-being, burn-out and veterinarians leaving the profession.
The NZVA says it has been talking to ministers and officials in an effort to help streamline processes to enable veterinarians to enter the country and alleviate the critical veterinary shortage exacerbated by border restrictions imposed due to Covid-19. So far this doesn’t seem to have worked, with more applications being declined each day, despite laborious hours spent submitting applications.
“We are calling on the Government to take urgent steps to alleviate this situation by elevating veterinarians to critical worker status and streamlining and speeding up the application and approval process.”