While the primary sector has been hailed as a saviour of the New Zealand economy during Covid-19 restrictions, a critical shortage of vets doesn't seem to be viewed as important enough to see border restrictions streamlined, says the NZ Veterinary Association.
"We're led to the conclusion that veterinarians are just not viewed as important, or as sexy as other parts of the economy such as film-making, which have seen wholesale exemptions created," Kevin Bryant, chief executive of the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) said.
The move was surprising given veterinarians' essential worker status during lockdown, Bryant said.
"We also understand that exemptions have been granted to build golf courses, build or repair racetracks and for shearers. Surely veterinarians are at least as important in supporting the economic functioning of the country" Bryant said.
If animal welfare, food safety and biosecurity were compromised due to an insufficient number of vets to support the primary sector, the economic impact on New Zealand would be "catastrophic" Bryant said.
"We also need to consider the vital role that veterinarians play in keeping pets healthy and the positive influence this has on family well-being, especially during periods of lockdown."
Dr Helen Beattie, chief veterinary officer of the NZVA said the repercussions of vet shortages were far-reaching and could, in many cases, have long-term consequences.
These included poor veterinary mental health and well-being, burn-out and veterinarians leaving the profession, Beattie said.
"We are concerned that poor farmer health and well-being will result when farmers are unable to get the support for their animals they need, and there'll be compromised animal welfare, food safety and biosecurity surveillance, as well as a negative impact on production."
"Immediate concerns were and are held for resourcing for seasonal requirements - we reached out for help early, foreseeing gaps for spring calving, equine reproductive procedures, mating and scanning, and calf disbudding - including training farmers to do this," Beattie said.
The NZVA had been talking to Ministers and officials in an effort to help streamline processes to enable veterinarians to enter the country and alleviate the critical veterinary shortage exacerbated by border restrictions imposed due to Covid-19.
With more applications being declined each day, the NZVA said it was calling on the Government to take urgent steps to alleviate the situation by elevating veterinarians to critical worker status, and streamlining and speeding up the application and approval process.
A survey of NZVA members indicated that out of 124 practices, there was a shortfall of 224 veterinarians.
Most respondents were seeking veterinarians on a full-time, permanent basis.
Veterinarians were being sought across all types of practices including large animal, mixed, companion, equine and specialist fields.