Northern Ireland

Vets' prescribing habits 'could affect human health'

A vet examining a cow Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There is an "urgent need to improve the prescribing habits" of some vets, says Dr Robert Huey

Northern Ireland's chief vet has criticised some of his fellow professionals for the way they prescribe drugs.

Dr Robert Huey said how they were operating could have an impact on human health.

He said there was an "emerging problem" of some vets prescribing drugs for animals without having examined them.

Dr Huey raised his concerns about the issue of antimicrobrial resistance.

Antimicrobial is a term that includes antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal medicines.

'Improve prescribing habits'

The problem with overusing these medicines on farms is that disease-causing bugs develop a tolerance.

If they transfer from animals to humans, it can make some infections difficult to treat.

In an interview with industry publication Northern Ireland Veterinary Today, Dr Huey said there was an "urgent need to improve the prescribing habits of some veterinary practitioners".

Image caption Some vets are prescribing drugs for animals without examining them, says Dr Robert Huey

Dr Huey also recommended that vets prescribe only a single drug, rather than a combination of antimicrobials.

He suggested that a change in regulations was needed, with the introduction of contracts between farmers and vets to prevent cases of several vets prescribing for a single farm.

Simon Doherty, the president of the British Veterinary Association, said that move would make sense.

"The potential is there for a real conflict in some of the prescribing if vets are using different products and the farmer is inadvertently using a range of different products on the same farm without realising it.

"If there is a single vet assigned to the farm it would be much more effective."

'Independent decisions' needed

Mr Doherty also said it was part of the chief vet's role to "challenge and make sure we are moving in the right direction with our use of antibiotics".

He said there was a need to refine and reduce the industry's use of them.

Dr Huey added that measures to prevent "conflicts of interest" between suppliers of pharmaceuticals and vets might be appropriate to ensure that those prescribing take "independent decisions".

He proposed introducing measures to limit financial incentives.

Mr Doherty said vets were professional and the vast majority had no interest in prescribing with profit in mind.

"Looking at the targets we've got for use of antibiotics, I don't think there's any incentive for any veterinary practice to be selling lots and lots of antibiotics in this day and age."