In December 2013, AHVLA and the Welsh Government announced plans to introduce an improved approach for surveillance for new and re-emerging animal diseases and other animal related threats in England and Wales, based on the recommendations of the independent Surveillance Advisory Group.
Key elements of the new model include:
- The retention of a geographically well distributed, but smaller, network of AHVLA post-mortem examination (PME) facilities. These will be supplemented by the procurement of additional providers of investigation services to enable a large increase in the number of farm animal post-mortem examinations (PMEs) carried out by the non-government sector.
- A subsidised carcass collection / transport service in areas where AHVLA post mortem facilities are withdrawn, for a period of three years. This will cover the transitional phase during which it is planned that the provision of non-government pathology services will develop. The carcass collection / transport service will move carcasses from areas where AHVLA facilities have been withdrawn to an alternative post-mortem facility.
- A greater emphasis on gathering, integrating and analysing intelligence from industry and academic sources, to ensure that new and re-emerging disease threats are identified and can be properly investigated at the earliest opportunity.
Since December, work has been progressing to implement this new approach; this update describes the position the implementation of this new model has reached and the expected timeline of future milestones.
Procurement of additional expert PME provision
Following useful feedback received at a Supplier Day held in late January, invitations-to-tender for providers to serve, in particular, geographical areas less accessible to the remaining AHVLA surveillance centres, are planned to be issued by the end of March 2014. It is expected that these additional providers will be supplying this service by September 2014.
Procurement of carcass transport services
In areas where local AHVLA surveillance centres are closing and no alternative providers can immediately be identified, a carcass transport service will be introduced.
These services will run for a period of up-to three years pending the emergence of other local pathology providers. Invitations-to-tender are expected to be issued by the end of March 2014 for implementation by September 2014. The carcass transport procurement and expert PME provision procurement will run concurrently.
In areas where AHVLA centres are to close before September (those areas currently served by the Truro, Preston, Aberystwyth and Luddington surveillance centres), a temporary local carcass collection service will either be continued or, in the case of the Luddington area, newly introduced. This will cover the period April-September, pending the outcome of the wider expert PME and carcass collection procurements.
Provision of first opinion PME training
AHVLA is exploring, with universities and other potential training providers, the development of training in first opinion pathology for private veterinary surgeons (PVS). The aim is to improve access to diagnostic PMEs for livestock keepers resulting in a larger numbers of carcasses being examined (more conveniently and quickly) by PVSs, leading to earlier detection of issues, and a reduced reliance on government provision of diagnostic PMEs.
AHVLA recently met with representatives of several universities, veterinary businesses and the Royal College of Pathology to explore further a collaborative approach to this. There was a consensus that improving diagnostic and post-mortem skills of private vets would be essential to improve access for farmers to a diagnostic service, provided a PVS could use fallen stock centres to carry out basic post-mortem examinations.
A range of training options were discussed, varying from on-line modules improving general diagnostic skills and pathology techniques, to the provision of a modular practical and theoretical course resulting in a gross pathology certificate. The Royal College of Pathology emphasised the importance of agreeing a set of standards for pathology techniques and offered assistance in providing these standards.
Participants felt that it was important to gain a better understanding of the likely demand for these courses from the PVS community, and to understand, from a PVS perspective, what training was specifically needed. A joint survey will be launched over the next few weeks.
Closure of existing AHVLA surveillance sites
Langford, Somerset: Surveillance activity will continue until September 2014, by which time it is intended that the procurement exercises described above will have contracted with a third party supplier of expert post-mortem examination services or a carcass transport service within the area.
Truro: Surveillance activity will cease on 21 March 2014. The current carcass transportation service (to Starcross, Devon) will continue until September 2014, pending the outcome of the expert PME provision and carcass transport procurements. PVS wanting to discuss any disease cases should in the first instance contact AHVLA Starcross. After assessment, VIOs will then provide details of carcass transport arrangements. Samples should be sent to AHVLA Starcross.
Luddington: Surveillance activity will cease in April 2014, with a temporary carcass collection service to Sutton Bonington being put in place until September 2014, pending the outcome of the expert PME provision and carcass transport procurements. PVS wanting to discuss any disease cases should in the first instance contact AHVLA Sutton Bonington. After assessment, VIOs will provide details of carcass transport arrangements. Samples should be sent to Sutton Bonington.
Sutton Bonington: Surveillance activity will continue until September 2014, pending the outcome of the expert PME provision and carcass transport procurements.
Preston: Surveillance activity will cease in April 2014. The AHVLA operated carcass transfer service will continue to operate (transporting carcasss to Penrith) until September, pending the outcome of the expert PME provision and carcass transport procurements. PVS wishing to discuss cases should contact AHVLA Penrith. After assessment, VIOs will provide details of carcass transfer arrangements. Samples should be sent to AHVLA Penrith.
Newcastle: It is anticipated that surveillance activity will cease by end of June 2014. If there is a need to transport carcasss from this area between June and September, ad hoc arrangements will be put in place. From September onwards it is expected that the procurement exercise will have contracted with a third party supplier of expert post-mortem examination services or a carcass collection service within the area.
Aberystwyth: The current carcass transportation service (to Carmarthen) will continue until September. The continuation of the service will be considered in-line with the exercise to procure third-party expert PME provision for North Wales, and the Welsh Government’s on-going work to identify an expert-PME provider in the Aberystwyth region. PVS wishing to discuss disease cases should in the first instance contact AHVLA Surveillance site in Carmarthen. After assessment, the VIO will provide details of carcass transfer arrangements.
Winchester: The Winchester site will remain open until April 2015, pending the outcome of the expert PME provision and carcass transport procurements. The current AHVLA-run van collection service, which is under used and no longer affordable, will however cease on 31 March 2014.
Systems and processes
The Surveillance 2014 project is looking to improve submission handling processes and systems to make them quicker, simpler and more user-friendly. Work has begun to introduce species-specific submission forms and a new supporting sample submission booklet will be published (online).
Whilst PVSs will continue to have telephone access to AHVLA Veterinary Investigation Officers for advice and guidance, an online self-service submissions portal will be introduced, enabling samples to be booked in online, progress tracked and the final diagnostic report accessed. Representative PVSs will be involved in developing and testing these procedural changes.
The species specific submission forms and a revised submission booklet should be available by April 2014, with the online submission portal likely to be operational in 12 to 18 months.
Collaboration between industry, government and private vets
Effective surveillance requires a purposeful partnership with veterinary practitioners and livestock keepers. AHVLA’s Species Expert Group (SEG) Leads, and revised Terms of Reference for the SEGs, will have an increasingly outward facing function, building these partnerships based on shared responsibility for surveillance.
Making more use of data and intelligence captured by others. The establishment of the Surveillance Intelligence Unit (SIU), including SEG Leads working with epidemiologists and data analysts, will enable AHVLA to investigate which data is available and may be useful to analyse to ensure that threats are identified as early as possible. This will enable resources to be targeted in a flexible manner when threats are recognised. The SIU will also provide meaningful reports for government as well as industry and the veterinary profession.
AHVLA will continue to provide on-going diagnostic support for PVS, and will assist in creating opportunities to develop their capabilities in first opinion pathology.
A joint approach to governance will see the creation of a Surveillance Board for England and Wales, which will enable strategic oversight of the functionality of the surveillance model against agreed parameters. The Board will incorporate policy customers, AHVLA officials, industry representatives and private vets.