My role as a Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer (NACWO)

What is a Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer?

The NACWO is one of the roles required by any establishment that is licensed by the government to carry out animal research. The Home Office guidelines set out the expectations of the role and a NACWO’s main duty is to oversee the day-to-day care and welfare of the animals, acting as a source of advice on welfare - both optimising welfare and minimising suffering. An important part of the role is to ensure that we maintain the highest standards of welfare and care.

There are three NACWOs within the BSU. In addition, all the supervisors in the facility’s four units have also completed full NACWO training even though they don’t act as NACWOs in an official capacity. It means that there’s a dedicated group of people who can work together to combine perspectives and ensure that the animals in the facility receive the best possible care.

At the facility my NACWO role involves:

  • acting as a contact point for anyone working with animals, from the researchers to everyone within the facility who is involved with the daily care of the animals. I’m the first point of contact for any situations where there’s a concern about the health or welfare of an animal.
  • supporting the implementation of refinements that improve animal wellbeing and care and reduce harms.
  • being aware of any possible adverse effects that might be expected following a procedure being performed on an animal, and understanding the control measures and endpoints that have been agreed should the animal’s welfare be affected.
  • supporting and developing a culture of care with respect to animal welfare.
  • being a member of the Institute’s AWERB (ethical review board) as scientific projects are reviewed and advising on opportunities where the 3Rs principles of reduction, refinement and replacement can be implemented.

The NACWO role involves working closely with the facility’s Named Veterinary Surgeon, which is another of the required roles.

How did you come to take up this role?

I’m a unit manager and fulfilling the NACWO role is part of the responsibilities of a unit manager. I’ve been a NACWO for five years, after being promoted to a unit manager role three years ago but also covering the NACWO role as a deputy unit manager before that. I’ve worked in the Institute’s facility for over 15 years since joining as an experienced animal technician and progressing my career from animal technician to supervisor, then to deputy unit manager and now manager. 

To become a NACWO you need to complete a two-day training course followed by an accredited examination to check that you’re fully aware of the requirements and regulations of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 known as A(SP)A. Fun fact: I was the thousandth person to complete the NACWO training which meant a fancy night out and a shiny plaque handed to me in person by the then Home Office Inspectorate!

It’s been a positive development for my career, and having held the NACWO position enhances my CV.

What does the role of a NACWO involve on a day-to-day basis?

Because I work in the facility’s experimental unit, I’m frequently called upon to provide advice. The experimental procedures have all been assessed to identify a severity rating so we need to carefully ensure that the experience of the animal(s) stays within what’s defined by these limits. This means careful monitoring of each animal and making sound judgement calls, which are backed up by my extensive experience and knowledge of the species I care for, about what to do when there are welfare concerns.

Day to day, I am kept up to date about the animals within my unit when the animal technicians have noticed a possible issue. This can be something like a mouse that’s scratching, which needs managing to avoid injury to itself. We might file or trim their nails to try and prevent this. Scratching is common with the standard strain of mice we use as they age. I might also be asked to give advice to the animal technicians who have welfare concerns about the animals in their care. I also advise the commercial companies that use the facility. This might involve inspecting experimental plans, signing these off and confirming that they meet our strict campus guidelines for animal use. 

It’s important to be flexible depending on what’s happening within the facility. As an example, new projects might be started, where we have a meeting with the lead researchers to plan out the work and setting out monitoring schedules.

I work closely with the Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS), and our roles are closely linked as we support each other. We’re best placed to be the decision-makers with regard to ensuring animal welfare.  It’s a careful balance of assessing the overall picture.

It isn’t a 9-5 responsibility. I’m on call at evenings and weekends, and this might be for advice over the phone or a trip into the facility to talk to an animal technician or researcher and inspect an animal if needed.

What is important to you about your work?

As NACWO it’s important to me that the animals are receiving the best care possible and that the research that they support will make a difference. Healthy and well looked after animals are essential to robust science.

Seeing the implementation of welfare refinements, and looking at better technical methods, such as refined ways of blood sampling that have less impact on the animal, is also rewarding.

Working with such an experienced team also makes my job easier. There’s a shared commitment to a culture of care, and this means for the animal technicians as well as for the animals. There’s a massive sense of pride in upholding the standards that the facility is known for.

What are you proudest of achieving in your time at the Institute so far?

I’m proudest of taking over the leadership of the experimental unit and growing and strengthening the team. I work with eight animal technicians, some of whom have careers of over 40 years, which creates a huge pool of expertise and I think that this is one of the reasons that we’re able to achieve so much. We’ve been able to develop a deep sense of trust with the researchers we work with and now there’s definitely a sense of appreciation for our work and our contribution. I enjoy feeling trusted and respected in my position.