Parliamentary Inquiry calls for funding for Wildlife Hospitals

A report from a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Veterinary Workforce Shortage in NSW recommends that the government provides dedicated, ongoing funding for the provision of veterinary services to wildlife.

The cross-party Legislative Council Committee Chair Mr Mark Banasiak MLC said that the current regulatory framework obliging veterinarians to treat injured wildlife with little or no recompense is ‘not sustainable.’

“The committee was very concerned to learn of the poor mental health and burnout experienced by veterinarians,” said Mr Banasiak.

Among the report’s seventeen findings were that veterinarians were financially vulnerable due to the expectation that free care be provided to injured wildlife, while they provide significant public good by providing those services without adequate recompense.

The report’s first recommendation is that the NSW Government provide dedicated, ongoing funding for the provision of veterinary services to wildlife, including for wildlife rescue organisations, existing wildlife hospitals, supporting the expansion of wildlife units at other hospitals, and to private veterinary practices to contribute to reasonable costs for services.

Committee Deputy Chair Emma Hurst MLC said the Inquiry highlighted that relying on charities to cover the costs of caring for wildlife, including during natural disasters was unsustainable, and suggested a government-funded model is required.  

“Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital is an important case study in the report, demonstrating the value of all-species wildlife hospitals providing expert, dedicated care for injured wildlife, with demonstrably effective results in relieving suffering and recovering native animals, including many threatened species.” said Ms Hurst. 

“But it is inappropriate for veterinarians and vet nurses to have to provide these services in the public interest without recompense, when this is a state government responsibility. The time for relying on small business owners or charities to cover the expense for wildlife care is over, and state governments must start taking accountability.”

Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital CEO Dr Stephen Van Mil was one of fifty-six witnesses to the Inquiry and welcomed its findings and recommendations.

“Along with our peers in the veterinary and wildlife care sectors, the strain placed on veterinarians from long hours, high expectations, exposure to suffering and reliance on donations and volunteering is taking a huge toll.” said Dr Van Mil.

“The report findings and recommendations echo that of the 2023 Independent Review of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, which recommends examination of the administrative and legislative provisions relating to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, and funding accredited wildlife hospitals for costs incurred in treating injured wildlife.”

“We work with wildlife rescue organisations and other wildlife hospitals across NSW, and offer a ready solution to halt the loss of native species through effective veterinary treatment for injuries and illness.”

“Native animals face numerous threats, from being hit by cars, attacked by feral pests and domestic pets, habitat loss, disease, and natural disasters.”

“There is growing community concern about species extinction, and this report makes it clear that wildlife veterinarians provide a significant public good. We welcome this report, and look forward to participating in state-wide consultation announced by the NSW Government earlier this year to improve wildlife rehabilitation and care.”

The threat of High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI H5N1 clade 2.3.4.4b) arriving in Australia has triggered serious concerns among veterinarians who treat avian wildlife, with evidence emerging that avian vet clinics are turning away seeing native birds.

“Over 60% of our patients are native birds,” said Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital General Manager of Veterinary Services Dr Bree Talbot.

“As avian vet clinics take precautions against notifiable diseases like HPAI H5N1, we expect increased demand for veterinarians with knowledge, skills and qualifications in the physiology and anatomy of native birds and other wildlife vulnerable to communicable diseases.”

The role of training and qualification in addressing the workforce shortage was also addressed in the report, which found that universities are encountering challenges in delivering veterinary science degrees to students, due to the high cost of delivery, and a shortage of academic staff. 

“There’s an unmet demand for veterinary places and also to train veterinary nurses and technicians,” said Professor Jon Hill, Executive Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Southern Cross University.

“We’re keen to be a good partner with government, industry, other universities and groups like Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital to expose students to a greater depth of understanding and comfort with treating native wildlife animals.”

The report and its recommendations are now with the government for consideration. The government is required to respond to the recommendations within three months.

Download the Inquiry Report here.

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