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Lay TB testing - the debate continues
30 October 2003
RCVS Council has asked DEFRA to think again about lay TB testing.
In July the Department proposed that suitably trained Animal Health Officers or lay staff of LVI practices should be allowed to carry out TB testing. The Department says that the State Veterinary Service does not propose to recruit large numbers of Animal Health Officers for the purpose or take routine testing away from LVIs. The lay testers would be in addition to the veterinary surgeons currently carrying out this work, the object being to increase the pool of trained people able to carry out TB testing.
The debate in Council benefitted from the experience of several members involved in TB testing. The view was that interpreting the reaction required skills of clinical observation which it would not be easy for a non-veterinarian to acquire. In principle a trained lay person could administer the tuberculin and take the initial and subsequent measurements of skin thickness, but it was not thought wise to divide the administration of the test between two people.
The dialogue between the RCVS and the Government on this subject goes back a long way. In 1994 MAFF consulted on the outcome of a management review of its Animal Health and Veterinary Group, and one of the proposals was to allow TB testing by suitably qualified lay people under veterinary direction. The RCVS agreed that the injection and skin thickness measurements could be carried out by a trained lay person, but advised against delegating the interpretation of the measurements or the clinical examination to identify non-specific reactions. In the current discussions the RCVS examined the issues again from scratch, but came to the same conclusions.
The debate is not over. The DEFRA consultation letter does not explain in full detail what the lay tester would be required to do, particularly when there are signs of a possible reaction, so Council invited the Chief Veterinary Officer to discuss the Department's proposal further with the RCVS.
One thing is clear. Testing will become ever more important as bovine tuberculosis continues to spread. DEFRA can be expected to keep looking for ways to increase its testing capability.