In the fourth part of RUMA’s ‘Sheep Sector in Focus’ campaign we hear about the inception and launch of Farm Vet Champions (FVC), a major collaborative project, initially driven by the RUMA Targets Task Force Sheep Vet, Fiona Lovatt (FVC Clinical Lead – RCVS Knowledge) and spearheaded by RCVS Knowledge, to empower the veterinary community in a united front to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
FVC was first conceived through the RUMA Targets Task Force (TTF) group by sheep vet, Fiona Lovatt, who has been part of the TTF since it was set up in Spring 2016 in response to Lord Jim O’Neill’s seminal Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Review. The goal of the TTF has been to respond directly to that report and recommendations, and to identify realistic, evidence-based goals for the UK agriculture industry. The creation and roll out of sector specific antibiotic reduction targets in 2017 through the RUMA TTF, has helped focus activity across the UK livestock sectors to achieve a 50% reduction in antibiotic use since 2014. The RUMA TTF comprises a specialist vet and leading farmer or sector representative for each key UK livestock group and they act as the contact point for each of the represented sectors. The group also comprises industry observers such as VMD, NOAH, FSA and AHDB.
From its inception, the RUMA TTF recognised the vital role vets play in informing farmers about medicine use and influencing the uptake of best practice, especially antibiotics, which are prescribed under their professional guidance. In her role as the sheep vet representative on the RUMA TTF, Fiona put forward the FVC idea after taking inspiration from the Arwain Vet Cymru project – a national veterinary ‘Prescribing Champions’ network for Wales which launched back in 2020. It was created to support vets to prescribe responsibly to the animals under their care, ensuring that antibiotics are used in the best and most appropriate way, while maintaining the health and welfare of animals. Today, Wales boasts an established network of highly trained Veterinary Prescribing Champions, all implementing stewardship changes in their practices and acting as ambassadors for responsible prescribing.
Fiona says that for progress to be made in good antimicrobial stewardship in the ruminant sectors, it is important that those on the front line of antimicrobial prescribing, namely farm veterinary practitioners and their wider practice teams, both understand the commitment that is in place to reduce antibiotic use, and that they are empowered to help inform and work with farmers to refine, replace and reduce use. This re-focus at the point of general practitioner-farmer interaction, led RCVS Knowledge to spearhead, with funding from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), the development of the innovative and widely collaborative Farm Vet Champions (FVC) initiative.
What is a Farm Vet Champion?
A Farm Vet Champion (FVC) is a steward within their work setting for the responsible use of medicines; they champion better practice for the responsible use of medicines within their farm animal setting.
Farm Vet Champions have direct access to a free online learning platform containing a variety of modules relevant to their area of work, to establish a concerted approach towards good antimicrobial stewardship in practices and on farms. There are over 20 hours of free on-demand CPD. These materials are invaluable to all farm-associated veterinary professionals as well as their wider practice teams. Farm Vet Champions can be accessed on the RCVS Knowledge Learn platform. The learning modules cover:
- technical species-specific modules
- vet-farmer communication skills and behaviour change principles
- the legal use of veterinary medicines, policies, and One Health aspects of antibiotic prescribing and stewardship
Fiona says: “Online FVC training material is free-to-access for all veterinary professionals and practice team members with three main strands: essential need-to-know antimicrobial facts and legalities; species-specific information; engaging bite-sized practical sessions on vet-farmer behaviour and communications. The clinical content focuses on how to plan ahead, prevent disease and protect flocks and herds, so that animals remain healthy, reducing the need for antimicrobial treatments. The sheep module was contributed by the Sheep Veterinary Society and representatives of the Society are also key members of the Farm Vet Champions Steering Group.”
Fiona adds; “The initiative has made a great start, but its ambition is to make a difference in every veterinary practice, at the point of every vet-farmer conversation.”
Executive Director at RCVS Knowledge, Chris Gush says: “The enthusiasm and support from across the farm animal veterinary community for Farm Vet Champions has been fantastic. The community has grown to 700 since its launch in May 2021. The online learning platform and SMART Goals tool are an excellent resource to support veterinary teams in responsible antimicrobial stewardship. Farm Vet Champions has a strong sheep focus with a learning module on flock health (in collaboration with the Sheep Veterinary Society) and a podcast that reflects on using the plan, prevent, protect approach to lambing featuring Emily Gascoigne and Fiona Lovatt in conversation.’ (Reflections on lambing with Fiona Lovatt and Emily Gascoigne | RCVS Knowledge – Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine (podbean.com))
What does FVC mean for the Sheep Sector?
Fiona says: “FVC is a multi-species tool, but for the ruminant sectors in particular, it is another important resource that can aid and enhance the antibiotic stewardship journey of the sector. Since 2016 significant progress has been made with respect to a coordinated approach to best practice in livestock antimicrobial stewardship. However, to date, this has been primarily evidenced at a national scale by industry efforts in the integrated pig and poultry sectors. There is a lack of good data for the ruminant sectors, so it has been difficult to evidence progress.
“While data gathering is now underway through tools such as AHDB Medicine Hub (MH), it will take time to build that national picture and solid evidence base to back up what we know anecdotally – that the sector is a low user of antibiotics; we just need the many data sets that exist across the circa 70,000 producers of around 33 million ewes and lambs in the UK every year, to be brought together to provide that all important national picture. Bringing that amount of data together from multiple different systems is no mean feat. In the meantime, while that data picture builds, initiatives like FVC help further demonstrate the ruminant sector’s commitment to antibiotic stewardship.
“A very recent development with FVC is a brand-new interactive tool that encourages individuals and teams to set and monitor SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) goals that are bespoke to their practice situation. There are great opportunities for practice team members or groups of vets to join together as teams and to use the SMART goal tool to track progress.”
For the sheep sector with the SMART goals tool in mind, Fiona says: “There is considerable potential for specific teams of sheep vets, which could be facilitated through the Sheep Veterinary Society, to develop SMART goals together. There are also plans to develop a FVC Ambassador group of keen individuals to widen the reach within the veterinary community. The aim is to establish inclusive and sustainable FVC communities on local, regional, and virtual levels. These groups would share ideas, set and track SMART goals to monitor progress, and showcase best practice implementation.”
 1 O’Neill J (2016). https://amr-review.org/sites/default/files/160525_Final%20paper_with%20cover.pdf