Efforts to save vital Animal Health Trust work *H&H Plus*

  • The demise of the AHT last summer showed it is not viable for a single entity to fulfil all its roles. H&H spoke to some of those involved in trying to find new homes for all the trust’s equine work

    Progress is being made to protect vital work done by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) from being lost for ever.

    The AHT closed in July after months of searching failed to source enough funding for a viable future and liquidators were appointed in September.

    Stephen Atkin, former chief executive of the Racecourse Association, has been heading up the process of how to best save the AHT’s disease surveillance, disease research, diagnostic testing and expertise to the veterinary pharmaceutical industry the charity provided.

    Although this does mean the charity’s services will no longer come under one umbrella, Mr Atkin explained that, sadly, the demise of the AHT meant that a single solution was not possible and they are now working to secure a long-term future for all areas of the charity’s equine work in the best possible homes.

    He told H&H the disease surveillance work was protected as a priority, for the benefit of the whole UK herd, by moving senior AHT staff initially to the British Horseracing Authority payroll.

    “We had to move quickly in that area, although it was difficult coping with an organisation about to go into liquidation, we moved as fast as we could, after staff had been made redundant, to ensure those services and the staff could still be available to the whole UK equine herd. said Mr Atkin.

    “The thoroughbred sector was able and had the money to make that happen, and now that key service has been maintained there is a plan to engage more significantly with the non-thoroughbred sector. We want them involved to have their voice heard and, in time, to contribute to the service.”

    He added money is part of it, but disease is a concern that affects the whole UK herd – not just thoroughbreds – so they want the wider equestrian world to be a part of this.

    “We would gain from having their involvement, as would they,” Mr Atkin said.

    British Equine Veterinary Association chief executive David Mountford added it is “great news for the sector” that plans to ensure equine infectious disease surveillance is centrally monitored are being developed. Meanwhile, a tender process took place in the autumn to find homes for the other areas of the AHT’s work, with 10 formal bids for the specialised diagnostic testing whittled down to a shortlist of five and further announcements expected in the early stages of this year.

    Mr Atkin explained much of the diagnostic testing work done by the AHT is already done elsewhere in the industry, and so they are not looking to rehome that or “interfere with the marketplace”. The trickier area is finding homes for highly specialised work, which by definition has a niche caseload, often a slow turnaround, so the costs are high and there is “no ready alternative”.

    “Some of the services of the AHT’s diagnostic team have been engaged while decisions are made on the future as to who is best placed to take that work on and where, so that gives us time to decide on what the best plan is for the longer term. I am optimistic about a good outcome,” he added.

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