Wiggles strike a sour note with veterinarians

Saturday 24 April marks World Veterinary Day and this year New Zealand veterinarians find themselves facing another year of significant stress and challenging workloads.

There are many reasons for this including the fact that veterinarians were classified as essential workers during the COVID 19 lockdown often working under extreme conditions which added to the stress they were already suffering due to an often physically and emotionally demanding job.

"Part of what contributes to veterinarians’ emotional loads is wanting to do the very best we can for our patients - with a number of constraints. We know animals are sentient beings and have feelings like humans - including pain and distress when things go wrong, as pets age, or accidents happen. We all want to keep them happy and healthy - and we need to achieve this in an unsubsidised veterinary care system. Those challenging situations, including when euthanasia needs to be included in the conversation, are difficult, and cumulative for veterinarians. Two things that help enormously, are pet insurance, and being kind and compassionate to your veterinarian - we are affected by your trauma too," says Helen Beattie, chief veterinary officer, for the New Zealand Veterinary Association.

Adding to the pressure is the long- term critical shortage of veterinarians that was exacerbated by the border closures that prevented overseas veterinarians entering the country to help alleviate the shortage. In September last year, the government announced an exemption for 30 veterinarians to come to New Zealand - there is a requirement for at least 50 more and these vacancies cannot be filled using the provisions of the long- term critical visa category.

"The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) is concerned that despite considered representations to government that there has been no movement on this issue, so recent exemptions, including enabling the Wiggles to travel here struck a sour note with our members," says Kevin Bryant, NZVA chief executive.

"We have consistently pointed out to Ministers of Immigration and Agriculture the implications of their inaction which include poor mental and physical health for veterinarians, impacts on primary sector production, animal welfare implications, impacts on farmers’ mental health when they can’t get the advice they need, impacts on biosecurity, surveillance and food safety and implications for pet owners when they can’t access essential services such as neutering."

The NZVA is hopeful that the government may revise its position and provide an additional exemption for 50 more veterinarians.