Laboratory services at eight of the 14 regional centres run by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency will close over the next two years after Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman gave the go-ahead to plans drawn up by the AHVLA.
The labs affected are at Langford (Bristol), Thirsk (North Yorkshire) and Truro (Cornwall) all by April 2012; and at Aberystwyth (Dyfed), Carmarthen, Luddington (Warwickshire), Preston (Lancashire) and Winchester (Hampshire), by April 2013.
Veterinary surveillance staff at the centres will in future have to send samples for testing to one of the remaining regional or central AHVLA laboratories.
Prospect National Secretary Geraldine O’Connell said: “This announcement bears out our worst fears for the future of the laboratories, and we remain concerned about the long-term impact on the future of the laboratory sites themselves.
“We will argue strongly that AHVLA must retain all the laboratory sites affected by these closures in order to maintain appropriate veterinary surveillance at local and regional levels. We are particularly worried about the situation in Wales, which will be left without a single lab and where we will be making strong representations to the Wales Assembly for the retention of the necessary facilities.”
A further report by AHVLA called The Veterinary Surveillance Review is due at the end of October which is likely to be crucial in determining the long-term fate of the regional sites.
Veterinary science laboratories are responsible for ‘animal specific’ health testing, which includes the early diagnosis of diseases such as bovine TB and swine fever, as well as a range of other laboratory services including haematology, microbiology and biochemistry.
Defra claims the closures would save £2.4m a year. But Prospect, the union for scientists and specialists in the agency, says that figure is dwarfed by the potential costs of failing to detect promptly a serious outbreak of any animal disease.
Ninety scientists and laboratory staff would lose their jobs under the proposals, said O’Connell. “That’s one in three of all laboratory staff employed in AHVLA’s regional network. The country cannot afford the loss of so many skilled laboratory staff or the reduction in testing facilities.
“The review accepts that the demand for laboratory services will not change and that these cuts rely wholly on the remaining laboratories taking on their work.”
After the closures, laboratory services will remain at just six regional centres at Penrith (Cumbria), Shrewsbury (Shropshire), Starcross (Devon), Bury St Edmonds (Suffolk), Sutton Bonington (Leicestershire) and Newcastle upon Tyne. They will continue to be supported by the central work groups at Weybridge (Surrey) and Lasswade (Midlothian).