Borders disease centre fears

THE disease surveillance centre (DSC) at St Boswells could be under threat following yesterday’s announcement by the Scottish Government that it would set up a strategic group to oversee disease threats to animal and public health.

The Kinnaird report, commissioned by Holyrood, which reviewed veterinary surveillance in Scotland, says the new strategic management board should look at axing some DSCs and it suggests setting up a single central lab to test samples.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said yesterday: “An efficient and effective early warning system to identify new and emerging disease threats is vital to the success of our livestock industries. I am immediately accepting the recommendation to establish a Strategic Management Board, bringing industry, veterinary and public health representatives into the decision-making process.”

But he continued: “While today’s report says that the number of centres should be reduced, no recommendations have been made on the number or location of centres to be retained. I will consider this very carefully before reaching my decision.”

The review, led by former NFU Scotland president John Kinnaird, suggests the board should be chaired by Scotland’s chief vet and it recommends a better balancing of costs between government and animal keepers.

Veterinary surveillance covers new threats to animal or human health, food safety or animal welfare, incoming exotic diseases, changes in known conditions and changes in husbandry or controls that might allow diseases to emerge. Most of it has been done by DSCs with a central diagnostic laboratory in Edinburgh and other work going to the Moredun Research Institute.

This last year SAC’s expenditure on veterinary surveillance was £3.1million while Moredun’s was £254,000.

At the St Boswells DSC, the latest income figures, for 2009-10, show the centre made just over £1million of which 35 per cent – £379,000 – was from grants. The centre makes money commercially from services to farmers such as health schemes, breeding tests on bulls and rams, scrapie monitoring, and pathology, as well as research and development, and education and training.

Of Scotland’s eight DSCs, St Boswells was the most profitable with the lowest percentage of its income coming from grants. Ayr received £607,000 in grants, (83 per cent of its income), Edinburgh £405,000 (57 per cent) and Aberdeen £397,000 ( 54 per cent),

The centre employs three vets, four other scientific staff and five admin and support staff, and was set up in the early 1960s.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It’s entirely wrong to claim St Boswells could be under threat. The report has recommended that the new Strategic Management Board should look at the number of DSCs.

“It has recommended that there should be a reduction but it hasn’t given any indication on how many or where. It’s far, far too early to talk about individual DSCs being under threat or anything like that.”

No senior vet at St Boswells was available to speak to TheSouthern before we went to press, but a spokesperson for the college in Edinburgh said: “At this stage there is no way we can talk about which centre will be under threat, if any.”

The chief executive and principal of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), Professor Bill McKelvey, said: “I am concerned that while the report recommends rationalisation, including a reduction in the number of DSCs and centralisation of laboratory testing, it does not propose in detail how this can be implemented. SAC will be seeking to contribute its ideas to the Strategic Management Board about how veterinary surveillance should evolve.

“I believe any rationalisation and further development ought to include wider aspects of strategic disease surveillance in Scotland, such as future relationships with the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Scotland.”