Vets have welcomed a government decision to relax restrictions on sales of an “essential” equestrian painkiller – but say they do not understand why they were not consulted about the move.

On 26 July, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), which is part of Defra, suspended the sale of all injectable forms of flunixin, “without warning”, according to the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA).

BEVA said it was “perplexed” by the move, without prior consultation with vets, as flunixin is the most commonly used painkiller for horses undergoing surgery and those suffering with colic and other conditions.

The VMD has now relaxed the restrictions by allowing the release of stock from manufacturers, and says it will let vets know when the drug is available to order.

“It remains a concern to BEVA that this mechanism was not put in place before the suspension of flunixin was imposed,” said association president Jon Pycock.

“Contrary to assertions by the VMD, wholesalers were unable to meet the demands of the veterinary profession and clinical use of this medicine was disrupted within 24 hours of the VMD’s initial announcement. We are surprised by the regulator’s lack of awareness of availability in the supply chain and question why there was no consultation with the veterinary sector before the suspension was enacted.

“The VMD has been aware of this issue since March 2018 and it appears no contingency was put in place to consider the animal welfare impact of this decision until it was too late.”

Vice-president and equine surgery specialist Tim Mair added that flunixin is a “unique” product in managing pain and sepsis in horses.

“The VMD appeared to believe that this medicine could be substituted for other veterinary medicines and this is simply not the case,” he said. “The release of stock from manufacturers is a short-term solution and, looking forward, we would like assurances that the VMD will fast-track applications for the modification of product licenses to ensure that equine vets have continued access to these products.”

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The VMD said it stated when the restrictions were announced that it was “investigating potential ways to maintain the availability of injectable flunixin for use in non-food producing horses”.

A spokesman added: “The VMD is actively working with marketing authorisation holders to allow them to release further currently labelled flunixin product on to the market for non-food horses only, provided it is accompanied by a ‘caution in use’ letter (to be approved by the VMD) which outlines the conditions of use and restricts supply to non-food horses.

“We will inform vets when flunixin product is available to order.”

BEVA reminded all equine vets that horses’ food chain status must be checked when flunixin is used, either by checking passports or chips, on the Central Equine Database website.

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