Page last updated at 06:53 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Watchdog finds TB test failures

A cow
Controlling the spread of Tuberculosis is a major challenge for vets

Concerns have been raised about the quality of work of some private veterinary practitioners in testing cattle for tuberculosis.

An Audit Office report has revealed the Department of Agriculture suspended 22 veterinary practitioners for a range of failures in carrying out TB tests.

The suspensions ranged from one week to one year.

The report also criticises the department itself for being too lenient with vets who breached their contracts.

Reporting delay

Controlling the spread of tuberculosis is one of the biggest tasks facing Northern Ireland vets and a substantial source of income at the taxpayer's expense.

But despite picking up 54m in fees for TB testing over a 10-year period, the Audit Office report highlights instances where the work of some private vets fell well short of what might reasonably have been expected.

One of the biggest problems highlighted was the delay in reporting positive test results back to the Department of Agriculture, clearly important when trying to control an infectious disease.

In one case, a vet who falsely signed tests carried out by an unauthorised vet was allowed to resume testing after a year's suspension
It should have taken one day, but the Audit Office says the average was closer to five days.

The report also records complaints about injections given in the wrong place, inadequate clipping and cleansing of the injection site and mistakes made in the measuring of reactions to the tuberculin injections.

Some vets used tuberculin which was out of date.

The report also says that private vets, who rely on the patronage of farmers, were much less inclined to declare an animal as a reactor than vets who worked for the Department of Agriculture.

On average, government vets were 1.5 times more likely to classify a disease breakdown.

In the most extreme case, a private practitioner found no reactors in 27,000 cattle tested.

The Department of Agriculture was clear where it was laying the blame when it said the failure to eradicate TB was due, at least in part, to poor testing by private vets.

For its part, the Department of Agriculture is urged in the report to impose tougher sanctions.

In one case, a vet who falsely signed tests carried out by an unauthorised vet was allowed to resume testing after a year's suspension.

The Audit Office says it would have been more appropriate for the Department to have terminated his contract and to have reported him to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

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