When people ask what I do and I say I’m a vet, they assume that I work in a veterinary practice and most people are surprised to learn that research organisations that undertake research on species protected by law under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) are also required to employ vets.
The Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS) is one of the roles required by the Home Office and advises the research organisation on veterinary matters relating to the health, welfare and treatment of animals. There are clear areas of responsibility set out for the role of the NVS in Home Office guidelines and we have a general description of what the role does within our facility under our veterinary services provision.
How did you come to take up this role?
I’ve worked in the Institute’s facility as the NVS since 2020 after working in other animal facilities as an NVS since 2003, and starting in general veterinary practice back in 1997.
What does the role of the NVS involve on a day-to-day basis?
My role involves lots and lots of interactions. I regularly meet people or talk to people about any health concerns relating to the mice in the facility. When animals are used in research, the end points are very clearly defined and that’s to make sure that there is no unnecessary suffering. An example might be looking at a mouse with an eye infection after this is spotted in a daily check, and giving instruction on how to make any adaptations necessary to make sure that the animal is comfortable, such as different bedding or nutrition, and medication required.
An important aspect of the role is raising awareness of the 3Rs (reduction, refinement and replacement commitments) – in particular the impact of procedures on animals, recognising signs of pains and distress, or lasting harm and giving advice to animal technicians and researchers on surgical techniques and post-operative care.
I am also responsible for the correct ordering and management of prescription-only drugs used both for scientific reasons, such as anaesthetic, and also drugs needed to treat any health concerns.
Beyond caring for individual animals, I help to uphold the overall health status of the facility by being involved in overseeing quarantine requirements and health screening.
Despite what you might think, I don’t get to be as hands on as you might expect, although I make sure that I’m in each of the facility’s units on a regular basis. I also have regular meetings with unit managers and supervisors and during the pandemic we maintained contact via virtual weekly meetings with all the unit managers, which we have continued so that we all stay up to date. I am enjoying being back in the office and having more face-to-face contact.
The only thing that is common across my role is the need for providing advice on a variety of subjects. Today I’ve been sorting out health screens and sourcing an alternative supply of the hormones we need for our rederivation programme (where we implant mouse embryos into surrogate mice as a way of importing mice strains into the unit while maintaining the facility’s pathogen-free status).
What made you decide to become a NVS?
After six years in general practice, I felt that I needed a change in direction, since I wasn’t making much of a contribution to society. I had not been aware of the NVS role before then, but I was lucky enough to get a post working with an experienced NVS who made the role (with all its ups and downs) come alive. In this role I feel as though I really have an impact in the daily cost:benefit decisions that support essential animal research but limit harms. It’s important to me that my work contributes to both human and animal welfare.
What is important to you about your work?
The role is actively involved in safeguarding animals and everything stems from there really. I’m involved right at the start of any proposal to use animals in the Institute’s research, often working with the lead applicant to talk over plans before that’s put together, and I’m part of the Institute’s AWERB (ethical review board) that scrutinises proposals before they are submitted to the Home Office. Then, as the scope of my work illustrates, I’m really involved at every point to make sure that the animals within the facility receive the highest standard of care, which is the desire of everyone within the facility. With caring for any unwell animals, my role involves balancing the likely treatment outcomes and assessing the severity of progression beyond what we can allow. Welfare always comes first.
Day-to-day I enjoy working as a team and I feel lucky to be part of such a committed team. I feel like we are really effective, and the recent AAALAC International accreditation received by the facility is testament to the facility’s excellence across how it is run, our staff training and commitment to animal welfare.
What are you proudest of achieving in your time at the Institute so far?
I’m proud of seeing the adoption of one of our 3Rs measures, where we now routinely move mice by cupping rather than tail lifting. Our thinking and awareness is developing all the time and we’re constantly looking for way to improve the experience of the animals in the facility, including an active programme of knowledge exchange and training between facilities as well as a rolling programme of training to develop and maintain the skills of our animal technicians.