Supporting the relationship between people, animals and the environment
Unlike most vet students, I didn’t go into clinical practice after qualifying. I knew that would be the case from the start of my veterinary journey. My first job was with a start-up company in Vauxhall, south London, which specialised in strategic market research for human pharmaceutical companies.
It was a role that allowed me to understand the everyday application of years of research and how – having completed clinical trials – pharmaceutical products arrived in the hands of healthcare professionals where they could be best used to help patients. Although I enjoyed my work, I missed being a part of the veterinary community. So, when the opportunity arose to become the next parliamentary veterinary intern working alongside Lord Trees in the House of Lords, I jumped at the chance.
Now, much of my time is spent in the gothic splendour of the Palace of Westminster.
I have always had a keen interest in veterinary research and its wider societal applications. Much to the bewilderment of my peers at vet school, I enjoyed our public health lectures and was therefore delighted to be offered this one-year internship with Lord Trees.
Growing up, little did I think that I would end up working in the House of Lords. In fact, it was only in my penultimate year of secondary school that I decided I wanted to become a vet, even though a veterinary career had seemed an obvious choice to my friends and family, who had always seen me as a keen scientist and animal lover.
It was only when I stumbled on the concept of One Health that everything clicked into place. I was intrigued by the prospect of a degree that covered not only medicine and surgery, but also offered a unique perspective on the relationship between people, animals and the environment. With my decision made, I crammed my school holidays full of work experience and subsequently managed to gain a place at the University of Liverpool.
'When I discovered the concept of One Health, everything clicked into place'
During my degree, I was able to explore my interests further through policy-based extramural studies placements and additional research projects, and I even took a brief hiatus to intercalate in immunology and infectious diseases alongside medical students at Imperial College London.
Through these experiences, I became increasingly interested in the real-world application of scientific research.
Currently, I spend my time keeping up to date with legislation and providing background research on the many areas of interest to the profession, as well as meeting with stakeholders, attending conferences and hosting students doing extramural studies placements.
My first week in parliament emphasised the wide reach of veterinary expertise. I found myself looking into a range of topics, from assisted dying to professional regulation, workforce shortages and agriculture, to animal welfare and international trade. As vets, we should take great pride in our ability to provide invaluable advice on such a broad range of issues – how many other professions are equipped to do the same?
The first few months of my internship have flown by and the recent Queen’s Speech, which was delivered this year by Prince Charles, provided an opportunity to reflect on some of the successes of the last parliamentary session.
Of these, probably the most well known was the passing of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act, which ensures that a group of experts will hold the government to account when it considers animal welfare as part of policy decisions. Particularly significant was the inclusion of decapod crustaceans and cephalopods, thanks to an independent review by scientists at the London School of Economics who provided strong evidence that these creatures feel a range of emotions, including pleasure, pain and distress.
The Glue Traps Act created a rare moment of political union, as the bill received cross-party support, although perhaps hardly surprising when one examines the science behind this decision. A pivotal study by Sandra Baker, which was presented at the AWF Discussion Forum in May, showed how cruel these traps are, with caught rodents suffering severe injuries, pain and distress. As a result of the Act, only licensed pest controllers in England are now permitted to use them and, hopefully, similar legislation will follow in Wales and Scotland.
Finally, the Animals (Penalty Notices) Act came into force, allowing fines of up to £5000 for individuals who breach any of a number of animal welfare laws, including the Animal Welfare Act.
'Evidence-based decision-making is vital to create progressive and appropriate legislation'
These victories serve as an important reminder that evidence-based decision-making is not only relevant in practice, but is vital to create progressive and appropriate legislation.
In the wake of a global zoonotic pandemic and Brexit, it seems more important than ever to have a veterinary voice in the chamber. With the introduction of bills on gene editing and animal welfare, and the continuation of trade discussions, we will no doubt have our work cut out during the new parliamentary session. Further news and information can be found at https://vprf.wordpress.com